Eva Birthistle - Elaine
Stephen Campbell Moore - Jonah
Hannah Tointon - Casey
Eva Sayer - Miranda
William Howes - Paulie
Rachel Shelley - Chloe
Jeremy Sheffield -Robbie
Rafiella Brookes - Leah
Jake Hathaway - Nicky
Genre - Horror/Holiday/Virus/Killer Kids
Running Time - 85 Minutes
Around the Christmas holidays, a family reunion is taking place in England. The grown ups - Elaine (Eva Birthistle), her husband Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore), Chloe (Rachel Shelley), and her husband Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield) - haven't seen each other in years and are happy to spend the holidays together with their children [although teenager Casey (Hannah Tointon) doesn't want to be there]. Quickly after the reunion, the children start feeling ill one-by-one. While the adults think it's just a cold that'll pass, they're oblivious to the fact that this virus is about to turn the young ones into cold-blooded killers.
I love horror movies involving creepy little bastards. Evil kid films like THE BAD SEED, THE OMEN, and ORPHAN will usually put a smile on my face. 2008's THE CHILDREN definitely meets that criteria, as infected children want to murder adults without any semblance of conscience, while the adults emotionally struggle with defending themselves against them. While a fairly predictable, not-all-that original, and simple kids-killing-parents premise, THE CHILDREN still manages to be fairly creepy, engaging, and more effective than one would believe.
I think the narrative is pretty great, even if what's told are things and themes we've seen countless times in other films in this sub-genre. THE CHILDREN starts out pretty slow, with not much action happening until 35 minutes into the movie. But the first 35 minutes are necessary, as it sets up the location, the situation, and the characters. The characterization, in particular, gives THE CHILDREN its strength. We have two different sets of parents - Elaine and Jonah are pretty strict with their children. They'll spank if they have to. They want their children well-behaved and well-mannered. Chloe and Robbie are more easy going, as they let their children just have fun. If they're good, they're given gold stars as an incentive. If they're bad, they'll just slightly scold them about not doing it again. It leads to some great tension once the horror begins, as the parents treat the situation in their own individual way.
Speaking of the parents' reactions, it's interesting to watch how they try to resolve and rationalize the situation. They either blame each other's parenting techniques for why the children are behaving as they are, or blame Casey for perpetuating the situation for whatever reason. When it comes to defending against the children, most of the parents are reluctant to hurt or even kill them because of their emotional attachment to these kids. I'm probably making it deeper than it sounds, as the screenwriting isn't exactly Academy Award-worthy material. But the fact that the parents actually struggle with the situation, because it's their children they have to deal with in the worst way possible, makes THE CHILDREN more effective than it deserves to be.
The characterization of the children isn't as deep as the adults, but they do have their own respective personalities. Miranda is the second oldest and the last to be infected. She's mostly scared of the other children until she catches the virus. Paulie is pretty silent and isolated, constantly slamming his hand into a toy xylophone in a creepy manner. Leah is the cute and playful one. Nicky... likes to sled, I guess. And Casey is the typical rebellious teen who would rather party with her friends than spend time with family. And have flirtatious behavior with her uncle-through-marriage, which is a plot device that's there to make her aunt Chloe be suspicious of her throughout the rest of the film. But Casey is the only one who seems active in the film in terms of stopping the children from killing the adults, which makes her look bad in front of the others due to her "lack of compassion". In some instances, it seems as if her parents care more about the younger kids than they do her for whatever reason. The tension is pretty thick halfway through the film, thanks to the script building up characters we can care about and understand.
My only real issue with the narrative is the virus outbreak itself. I know people prefer to have their illnesses mysterious in their horror films. But in a film like THE CHILDREN, I wish I knew what caused it and why it only affects children and not teenagers and adults. Is it biological? Is it supernatural? Why is anyone over the age of 10 immune to this? And the very end of the film makes things more ambiguous. I don't want to know everything about why the children are being infected by a virus that turns them to serial killers. But a hint or something would have been nice.
Also, I gotta say that there was a bit of implied pedophilia going on this film. Not only was Uncle Robbie wanting a piece of teenage Casey, but there was something going on between Jonah and step-daughter Miranda. He seemed too protective of her, even taking her away from the home as the children attacking the adults and Casey. I'm not sure what any of this had to do with the actual main narrative, but there was a sleazy vibe going down here.
The direction by Tom Shankland is pretty damn good, I gotta say. Sure, there are editing issues that took away from the attack scenes at times. But I thought the cinematography was quite great. I also thought Shankland built up tension really nicely, building up the horror moments through sound and using different shot scales and angles within a sequence. The gore isn't major, but I thought the bloody scenes were done well. Children do get killed, as well as adults, in very vicious ways. And I liked that the film had the balls to do that. Not a perfectly directed film, but it did what it had to do to be effective.
The acting was very good. I thought all the adult actors were good, especially Eva Birthistle as Elaine. Her struggle to defend herself against these crazy kids, while wanting to give up since she couldn't hurt them, was very effective. Hannah Tointon was great as Casey. She had spunk, a Lolita-ish thing about her [although I do think she was over 18 while filming this], and great body language in general to give us her understanding, yet confusion, over the situation. The children were good actors as well. None of the acting will be discussed a day or two after watching THE CHILDREN, but it was more than fine for the material given.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE BELIEVING THAT CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE
- Casey didn't want to be at the family reunion, instead wanting to party with friends. Apparently she's stuck in that teenage rebellion phase. In other words, she's behaving like Lindsay Lohan at age 27.
- Leah coughed up blood and smeared it on her pillow. She's finally becoming a woman.
- Casey got a tattoo of a fetus on her tummy because she was "the abortion that got away". Not realizing she got this disturbing ink is the second biggest mistake Casey's parents made when it comes to her.
- Robbie got killed while sledding into some spikes made by the children. That's one way to sleigh your victim...
- One of the kids got impaled by glass, killing him. Looks like they got that abortion after all.
- Deluded by what was in front of her face, Chloe got her eye stabbed by the children. No big deal. The stupid bitch was already blind to the truth.
THE FINAL HOWL