Effective killer kid movies are hard to come by. Their shock value has diminished severely since the days of THE BAD SEED and truth be told, few movies are willing to take the sub-genre to the extremes needed to be successful. One false move by the director and you’re looking at a campy joke. One false line reading by a kid actor and you’ve permanently lost your audience. 2008’s THE CHILDREN (not to be confused with the unintentionally hilarious shocker from 1980) is a film by director TOM SHANKLAND that routinely impresses by not shying away from the disturbing nature of its subject matter.
Taking place over a snowy Christmas holiday two families meet for seasonal festivities. Tension is patiently doled out as we slowly find that the children of these families are beginning to act more and more feral due to an unnamed virus. The madness that blankets the children is of the cold and icy variety and the film highlights this visually with its grey bleakness. As we progress the general static atmosphere becomes more and more frequently punctured by migraine inducing blasts of vivid imagery, harsh primary colors and shrill sound. In some instances these frenzied collisions of tone are annoying as hell, but they also provide a pitch perfect arena that could believably incubate domestic insanity.
There is a balancing act evident throughout the film’s running time of which director SHANKLAND is dutifully aware. Most of us would like to believe if we were confronted by a homicidal child we could more than hold our own, but in THE CHILDREN confusion and chaos reign supreme. The adult victims are slow to the realization that their beloved offspring have gone batty and even upon realization, struggle to accept that they will have to use violence themselves in order to survive. A great deal of the film’s success in building a believable groundwork for its action that is derived by keeping both the audience and the film’s characters partially in the dark. As things escalate the parents’ natural instinct to scapegoat rather than implicate their own children muddy the waters even further. Refreshingly, we are also presented with a teenage character who seems to be the sole heir to clarity when the dominoes begin to fall.
There is something about killer kid movies that will always strike the funny bone. Watching perfect little angels behaving badly is innately amusing. THE CHILDREN is smart enough to follow the lead of WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? by demanding that the audience think hard about when violence is necessary and allowing them to appreciate the parents’ dilemma rather than dwell on heroics. The end result may not scare the crap out of you, but be prepared for plenty of creeps due to some severely haunting images and a couple of flinches thanks to some convincing gore. If nothing else, if you have ever wondered what it would be like if somebody made a killer kid flick and not only took its subject matter seriously, but didn’t back down in fear of stepping on sensitive toes, you now have your answer.