Thursday, October 04, 2012

30 Days of Nightmares #8: THE CHILDREN (2008)

The Story: An unidentified virus transforms a holiday gathering into a bloodbath, turning children against the parents.

Expectations: The Region 1 DVD release boasts that this film is "from the makers of THE EVIL DEAD", but that's a marketing lie.  The US distributor is Ghost House Pictures, Sam Raimi's production company.  Ghost House has a fairly good track record with recent horror films (the remake of THE GRUDGE, THE MESSENGER, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, THE POSSESSION) and certainly won't be hurt by its association with this British shocker... but they can't fairly claim credit.  The filmmaker is Tom Shankland, whose work I admit I'm not familiar with.  From what little I knew about this film before watching it, I was anticipating a "creepy kids" film along the lines of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960), WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976) and CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1983).  My wife and I watched CHILDREN OF THE CORN a few months ago, and we both came away with the same verdict: It's not quite as bad as its reputation.  (It was once reviled as the worst Stephen King adaptation, but that was before a million crappy sequels and remakes came down the pipeline.)  Still, it stands as proof that the idea of "killer kids" can get very silly very fast.

Reaction: Good horror movies hit us close to home.  That's why so many filmmakers have mined the creepy kids schtick, hoping to hit us where we live.  Being a parent of young children is often scary (so I'm told).  Until they learn to express themselves, a parent can't know specifically what their kids are thinking.  A certain amount of parenting is educated guesswork.  I'm not suggesting that this makes any parent afraid of their children, but it certainly makes many parents afraid for their children.  We think of young children as supremely innocent and vulnerable... And that's the notion that Shankland's film seeks to undermine.  When the kids get sick, the first instinct of the adults is to try to protect them... which is what makes the adults so vulnerable to attack, and what makes the emotional arcs in this surprisingly well-acted film so resonant.

THE CHILDREN also puts a very smart spin on the "final girl" slasher formula.  From the beginning, it's clear that the most resilient character in the story is the teenager, played by Hannah Tointon.  She is the middle-ground between parents and children -- caught in the awkward space between two worlds.  Thus when the shit hits the fan, she's the only one who see the threat clearly and respond decisively... not because she's a virgin (as in a slasher movie), but because she's not a parent.  This raises an inevitable question: Who do we root for -- the parents who want to protect their children, or the teenager who is willing to kill them (ironically, to protect her parents)?  That's only one of several intriguing questions that the film poses, leading up to a very smart twist ending that questions the nature of the mysterious virus.  If you've got the stomach for it, this is an effective little horror movie that's well worth watching.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Backyard tents have never seemed so sinister...

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