Monday, October 04, 2010

The Children

(2009) ***1/2

Back when I was still teaching at the elementary school in Berkeley, one of my friends asked me, "If you were to get attacked by a swarm of kids, how many do you think you could take down before you got completely overrun?" I replied, "All it takes is for four of them to go for your legs at the same time and you're toast." And I was just talking about theoretical children, kids I have no familiarity with. It'd be a different matter if they were my own kids. If one of my own came at me with a garden trowel, it'd be a toss-up whether I'd fight back at all, or just sit there, dumbstruck while she stabbed me to death.

Two families meet for New Years weekend at a house in the snowy British countryside. As the weekend wears on, the four children each fall prey to a mysterious virus. At the onset, it looks like merely a loopy malaise. Watching the childrens' playtime manner become more and more unhinged, I kept thinking of Regan MacNeil in the Exorcist pressing her body dazedly against the wall of her doctor's office, humming softly to herself.

The loopiness quickly descends into more volatile behavior. The dawning madness feels a lot like the psychopathic descent featured in the Crazies, except when it's an adult it's easier to see it as something evil, and to fight back against it. But something about the madness coming from your 8 year-old kid dulls your instincts for self-preservation. Partly it's that it falls so completely out of the bounds of the logical, natural way of things. But a lot of it is that the only thing worse than violent death at the hands of your adorable child, is having to kill your child in order to stop it from happening.

(potential spoilers after the jump)

In the comments section of JPX's review of Survival of the Dead, I mentioned this movie as presenting a storytelling quandary -- how scary can you actually make your movie if your perpetrators are child actors with impressionable minds? The more I think about it, the less I think it'd ever be much of a hindrance. Things move pretty slowly on a movie set, and now that there's CGI, it's possible to make a pretty gruesome movie without having to shoot much gruesome footage. The kids won't be seeing much that's going to scar them. Also kids are pretty cool these days when it comes to that kind of thing. I watched some of the special featurettes after combing the movie for screenshots, and it turns out, the kids knew exactly what kind of movie they were in -- and they had a blast.

I bring this up because despite all this, for most of the movie, there's so much sleight-of-editing, you could almost believe the kids were somewhere else on the set when the gory stuff happens. There are almost no moment-of-truth shots in the movie. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a negative -- the pacing is good, and the mayhem is suggested skillfully enough that the movie achieves the dark tone it sets out for. I might say that it makes the movie feel a little risk-averse. If the filmmakers had gambled a bit more on their money shots, I might have given this four stars. It's that good, otherwise.

Hi. I'm Hannah Tointon. You may very well be seeing my face again in 50Page's Thon Wrap-up, next to the words "Scream Queen."


JPX said...

Nice find and excellent review, 50P! That first picture is creepy. There's something about kids just standing motionless and in silence that adds extra creepage to a scene. There seems to be a growing catalogue of "kids gone mad" kind of horror - I hope you tackle more of these.

Catfreeek said...

This is another film I have queued for my creepy kids theme. I don't want to read your review until I've watched it but the 3 1/2 star rating is promising.

Landshark said...

Excellent review--love the recounted convo you had years ago as an elementary teacher.

AC said...

great review, delightfully disturbing premise.

Octopunk said...

This is interesting because it seems to have succeeded in the kids as bad guys mode while the Children of the Corn flicks largely fail. Or so I hear.

Whirlygirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Whirlygirl said...

I've finally caught up on reading all of the reviews, I think.

Great review, 50. I'm definitely going to check this one out.