Children. Simply put, they are a handful and there’s no escaping that. They are, at times, energetic and hectic, making them a little difficult to deal with. I’m no parent, but it’s not hard to see that raising a child is no cakewalk. Now, I’m sure many of us remember the holidays as children. We were filled with a sense of seasonal wonder that kept us going and going, and the parents undoubtedly saw it in our eyes. During this time, our innocence as children reaches its peak. We are all good little boys and girls (hopefully) as we wait to be overcome by the magic of the holidays, and clashing with the adult world only threatens the innocence we feel inside, something we dare not lose. Now, just a hypothetical, what if we were to lose that innocence in such an extreme way that we wanted to murder our own parents, or for that matter, any member of the adult world?
Just to give a bare bones plot (I’d hate to give away any spoilers), the British film The Children follows two sides of a family as they gather in the countryside for some Christmas cheer. The young children start to develop flu-like symptoms, and what started as just another family gathering quickly devolves into a living nightmare as the children begin to attack their parents and adult relatives.
From the start, the film is quick to identify and separate the two worlds (child and adult). Additionally, given when the film takes place, the film shows that the children, happy and lively that they are, do not interfere with the workings of the adult world, staying as innocent as possible. So, there’s the adult world, the child world, but then there’s Casey, a teenage-angst ridden girl who doesn’t seem to fit in either world. She is annoyed by the cheeriness of her siblings and cousins and her presence seems invisible to her mother, father, and aunt, with her uncle being the only one who recognizes her as a young adult. Still, she’s the black sheep, and believes so herself, referring to herself, in a tattoo, as “the abortion that got away.” When the two worlds collide, she is caught in the middle and her pain is most palpable as she struggles to make her parents and relatives aware of what the true evil is. But now, let’s get to those causing her pain, the stars of the show, the children.
First, I should make clear that the “evil child” subgenre of horror is well-travelled ground, so the movie and its story do not score any points for originality. What makes the movie, however, is how the concept is delivered, and writer/director Tom Shankland’s script and careful direction aid these children to become the little demons we recognize them as for a majority of the film. One of the positive aspects of the film is that, while it is violent and damn bloody to boot, it chooses not to bludgeon its audience with sheer acts of horror.
Instead, it chooses to give its audience quick punches in the gut as the children commit vicious deeds, but then retracts for a while to let the audience recover and build up the atmosphere. This allows the tension to build upon itself with each passing moment, creating an atmosphere that is as harsh and chilling as the cold winter wind. This atmosphere perfectly compliments the children, who are as stoic and/or homicidally devious as possible. These young child actors are absolutely impressive in their roles, stealing the show as they devolve from adorable children to sadistic killing machines. These kids are downright frightening and would give any person a reason to doubt wanting children.
Running at a lean, mean 85 minutes, The Children is a chilling horror film that is worthy of annual Christmas viewing if you’ll allow yourself to feel petrified once a year. Unfortunately, the story is often forsaken in the name of tension and violence, but when a movie such as this is this effective in providing shocks that will leave you gasping for air, it is a flaw that barely even matters. To all current parents or those of us wanting to be parents someday, I know the idea of our children wanting to kill us (for no clear reason, might I add, making it even more terrifying) will seem appalling and we’d rather not think about. But, you have to admit that the film leaves us with a perplexing question.
If your life was in certain danger being ended, would you kill your own in order to preserve it? The answer is not easy and it is a question we’d rather not answer. The thought of it alone is frightening, and this film emphasizes that fear of having to answer. My score is a 4.5 out of 5.