Tuesday, October 16, 2018

THE CHILDREN (2008) movie review

The Children (2008) d.Tom Shankland (UK) (84 min)

During a winter holiday visit between two families, the younger set starts to exhibit cold-like symptoms (coughing, vomiting) as well as erratic behavioral swings which are easily rationalized by changes in the weather and, well, “they’re kids.” Of course, once the grown-ups start getting bumped off in a series of “accidents,” the real challenge begins: convincing themselves that the pint-sized antagonists are genuine threats and dealing with them accordingly.

In the pantheon of “killer kids” genre offerings, a subset that includes such classics as Village of the Damned and Who Can Kill a Child? and low-budget exploitation efforts Devil Times Five, Bloody Birthday, and the black-fingernailed tykes of The Children (1980), this inexplicably under-the-radar Brit effort ranks right near the top.

The cast is excellent, led by Eva Birthistle (star of neo-Hammer’s Wake Wood), Stephen Campbell Moore, Jeremy Sheffield, Rachel Shelley, and Hannah Tointon, who shines as resident teen wild child Casey caught between the world of children and adults. But the real wonder is writer/director Shankland (who helmed 2007’s similarly underrated The Killing Gene and now seems to have found his way into the Netflix/Marvel stable with episodes of Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and The Punisher) and his innate ability for crafting genuinely suspenseful scenes that pay off in thoroughly crowd-pleasing ways.

The monstrous pint-sized antagonists are creepy, but not in a purely mechanical, dark-shadows-under-the-eyes way, and the sinister (and entirely plausible) goings-on continue to escalate right through to a pleasingly fever-pitch climax. Some have complained about the lack of explanation for the mysterious mind-altering flu upon which the plot swings, but to my mind it’s as inconsequential as Alfred Hitchcock’s refusal to justify his aviary assailants a half-century prior. It doesn’t matter why – what matters is that it IS and must be dealt with.

The Children was eventually released to DVD in 2009 with little fanfare by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Underground, where it has labored in obscurity ever since, to the point that it has yet to be upgraded to Blu-ray outside of the UK. Major kudos to Music Box Theatre’s general manager Ryan Oestreich for including this sorely overlooked entry into the Music Box of Horrors line-up this year – a sterling example of using one’s powers for good.



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