Welcome to Knockout Horror and to another horror movie review. After covering a bunch of classic movies to end 2022. We have been catching up on a few recent releases. We checked out Deadstream, Apartment 1BR and Sissy. All of which we really enjoyed. We also looked at Homewrecker and Superhost which were… Well, let’s just say we didn’t enjoy them as much. For today’s review, we will be taking a look at a brand new release for 2023. The horribly titled There’s Something Wrong With The Children.
Directed by Roxanne Benjamin. There’s Something Wrong With the Children follows four obnoxious millennials. Spending time together in a pair of holiday cabins. Their kids suddenly develop strange and violent behaviour. Have they been listening to too much deathcore? Is it down to countless hours spent playing Grand Theft Auto 5? To be honest. When a movie is this shit, who gives a fuck?
We have zero scares. Protagonists that you won’t give a shit about. And harmful representations of mental illness to look forward to. I will skip my usual breakdown of the movie as this review is huge. In fact, I wish I skipped the movie as a whole. I will point out, before we start, that I get into it a little here. This movie’s clumsy approach to mental health triggered me a little. That isn’t a word I really like to use. I don’t think it carries weight or fits particularly well. Still, it is apt in this context. Seeing people claim this movie handles mental health topics well triggered me even further. I have to give my two cents as a Bipolar Disorder sufferer. I am not offended if you want to skip it.
Anyways, skipping the usual synopsis. Here is a quick outline. The basic plot follows two couples. One has children, the other doesn’t. They are spending the weekend together in a pair of holiday cabins. On a hike one day, the group visit an abandoned military location. They find a pit at the end of a tunnel. The children seem transfixed. When the group gets back, things start to go downhill. The kids begin acting strange with, seemingly, no explanation. On with the review.
Despite talking about how much I dislike this movie. I have devoted over 3,000 words to reviewing it and nearly 4,000 to explaining the ending. With that in mind, if you have already watched this movie. You may have found the ending to be a little vague. Well, we are here to help.
There’s Something Wrong With The Children is a bit messy. It features social commentary on parenthood and the pressures on childless couples. It also has a few events that can seem a little confusing. We go into depth on that in this article. Click right here to check out our There’s Something Wrong With The Children Ending Explained.
I always see Blumhouse Productions as something of a mixed bag. Get Out is sensational, M3gan looks like tons of fun. I personally really enjoyed Cam and we loved Happy Death. I am also a fan of some of their lesser known stuff. The Bay, for example, is brilliant. Then, on the opposite end of the scale. You have absolute dreck like Ouija and Fantasy Island. Blumhouse has had as many misses as hits. In recent years, one thing has become very apparent. Blumhouse cares much more about making good money than making good films.
Enter stage left, director Roxanne Benjamin. I actually avoided reviewing the last movie I watched of hers. Body at Brighton Rock was woefully bad. Trying desperately to channel some Autopsy of Jane Doe style creepiness. The story of a park assistant spending a night with a corpse is an absolute chore to get through. I decided it wouldn’t be worth reviewing so didn’t bother. Benjamin’s latest effort, There’s Something Wrong With the Children, might be worse.
In a move that is horribly typical of Blumhouse in recent years. Roxanne Benjamin has squatted down and curled out a horror movie turd. Jason Blum has cheerfully come along. Scooped it into a brown paper bag and written his name on it in crayon. As long as it appeals to teens and people who rarely watch horror. Blumhouse will produce it and happily promote it. The annoying thing is. Review sites will fall in line and tell you how great they are. Weird!
This is one of those movies that is difficult to review. There is so much wrong with TSWWTC that it is hard to direct attention to one facet. We should start with the obvious. The story is something that you have seen a million times before. Naturally, the addition of kids adds a little variety but it is by the numbers horror. Two couples spend time together. The kids begin to act strangely. Stuff happens, the couples blame it on each other, they become divided. Kids go nuts yada yada yada. It’s reminiscent of The Children and Home Movie. Only with a lot less intrigue, worse acting and no scares.
These are a group of people that are obnoxious. They are incredibly difficult to care about. When the shit hits the fan, you will be rooting for the ankle biters. Thomas and Ellie are middle aged parents. Struggling with their sex lives. They spend much of the film attempting to convince Ben and Margaret to have children. This really made me wish writers could present people with children who are just content. People that don’t feel the need to ask “so when are you going to have kids?”. It’s an old trope that really needs to die. Still, I suppose having a 15 year old child when you are nearly 60 does sound fun. Maybe Ben and Margaret should fall in line.
The couple’s trip consists of hikes into abandoned military installations. Sitting around drinking. Getting high and, generally, pretending that they don’t have children to look after. It is reminiscent of a soap opera without the drama. They don’t visit interesting places. There is no interpersonal chemistry. The group’s interactions are not comical and there is no suspense.
When a journey to one of those aforementioned abandoned places goes wrong. The parents are actually forced to pay attention. The kids begin acting strange and its all downhill from there. As mentioned earlier, it is cookie cutter stuff. Entirely predictable from start to finish. There are zero surprises here and everything that happens is easy to see coming.
TSWWTC tries to keep this tired formula fresh by focusing on recent buzz topics. Scary mental illnesses, partner swapping and lots of wine are the order of the day here. Better throw in some gaslighting as well. TSWWTC is painfully millennial. As a millennial myself. It’s impossible not to see how horribly this movie tries to be relatable. It’s very upper middle class, white millennial, though. These people drink craft beers and expensive wine. There’s no Barefoot Zinfandel or Liebfraumilch here. They vape THC to get high. They have casual weekend breaks at cabins that likely cost thousands of dollars to rent. This movie is the very epitome of out of touch.
Given that the only people I can see this movie appealing to are teens and non-horror fans. I am not sure what they are going for. Gen Z think us millennials are pretty “cheugy” don’t they? I can’t imagine them enjoying or relating to these four. Are we supposed to dislike these people? Is this type of ignorant privilege common in America? Either way, they all suck.
Their general ignoring of their children is fairly typical of these types of people. You know, the ones who stumble into parenthood. It is this ignoring of their children that opens the story up. It also leads on to some of the more problematic aspects of the film. Namely its depiction of mental illness. I go off on a major tangent here. Feel free to skim over it if you like. If you want to learn a little about bipolar disorder, read on. Also, if you are a sufferer of a mental illness. Why not have a read and see whether you agree with me? If you want to skip, click right here.
As somebody who suffers from Bipolar Disorder. I found this movie a little uncomfortable. I want to point out that the depiction would not impact my score. As anyone with a severe mental health condition will tell you. We are used to negative depictions in the media. I, frankly, expect it and wouldn’t allow it to impact my enjoyment. The way the writers presented it does bear mention, though. This is especially true given some reactions to the movie. I have seen people saying Ben’s Bipolar Disorder is handled with sensitivity. As a sufferer, I am here to tell you that it isn’t. It is a plot vehicle and nothing more. It fits neatly into the modern obsession with labels and mental health.
Minor spoilers here but Ben raises concerns regarding something he has seen. His girlfriend immediately suggests that it is likely his mood. Ben reaches for the Lithium, evidently believing her. When his condition is used by the children to make him seem “crazy”. The rest of the group accuse him of being manic and unreliable.
So there are a few things to unpack here. Lithium is a mood stabiliser. If a person were to be experiencing hallucinations and psychosis. Something that can come as a result of bipolar disorder. Lithium wouldn’t do a damn thing. That is where antipsychotics come in. Risperidone, Seroquel (Quetiapine), Olanzapine and whatnot. These will bring you, fairly rapidly, out of psychosis. Lithium is something of a prophylactic. It stabilises your mood somewhere in the middle preventing manic highs. You prevent the highs, you will likely avoid psychosis.
Ben’s tablet bottle indicates these are 600mg tablets. Ben would likely need two of these, 1200mg. This represents a fairly decent, therapeutic, dose of lithium. If he were prone to highs or psychosis, particularly if he had a history of hallucinations. Ben would likely have to take an anti-psychotic, as well. This can be a type that is taken daily or a type that is taken pro re nata (as needed). Combination therapy is common with bipolar disorder. When my condition was particularly bad. I was prescribed two mood stabilisers and an anti-psychotic. Lithium, Valproate Semi-Sodium and Seroquel.
Ben has medication with him. We are to believe he is taking it routinely. Lithium is not a drug that imparts an immediate change. Lithium is taken over time. The idea is to build the drug up to a therapeutic level in your blood stream. The level between therapeutic and toxic is fairly close. Dehydration can send a lithium user into lithium toxicity. This is why it is a bad idea to drink alcohol with lithium. That brings us to our first misstep.
Ben takes the lithium in response to Margaret’s suggestion that he is hallucinating. The lithium would do nothing. If he has been taking it routinely, he will be close to therapeutic levels. Even if you stop taking it, the lithium remains in your system. You likely won’t experience strong symptoms for at least 4 weeks. I have stopped medication and not experienced symptoms for months in the past. That is with me having a particularly delicate, rapid cycling, form of bipolar, as well.
So aside from the misrepresentation of how a bipolar sufferer medicates. Ben’s friends reaction to him are troubling. His girlfriend doesn’t even consider the consumption of a hallucinogen the night prior. She instead decides to blame his bipolar disorder. His friends do the same. They angrily mock him and accuse him of being manic. I am sure I don’t have to point out. It is not okay to treat people with mental health conditions like this. Ben had been displaying no other symptoms of mania. Mania isn’t a stealthy creature. It is very apparent when someone is suffering from it. Especially someone you are close to. When they are acting typically and not showing symptoms. You can’t default to “oh well that person is crazy so, it is likely that”.
This wouldn’t be a huge problem if there was some comeback on them for treating him like that. They accuse him of being manic. His girlfriend tells him he is ill. It is all put across in a way that makes it seem as though they were thoroughly justified. They make it seem okay to act that way to people with mental illness. There is a brief moment of realisation and regret from one of the characters. Not once, though, does anyone believe him or consider not pointing out his condition.
People with severe mental health conditions have to suffer this all the time. Perpetuating it is not okay. We should be seeing people with these conditions being supported. Show people a different way to react. Fine, have a character or two doubt him. But, at the very least, have someone believe in him and end up validated for their belief.
The amount of people that have asked me whether I “am on my meds” because I am happy is insane. Having people chuckle nervously when I am laughing hysterically at something is awful. I genuinely believe much of that comes from media depictions of the condition. Movies and TV make it seem okay to treat people like this. If I told my fiancée I had seen something strange and she accused me of being manic. I would be absolutely crushed. Luckily, this wouldn’t happen. She would take what I say onboard and look at it logically. She loves me enough to recognise symptoms and, if I am ill, approach it delicately. Show people a different way of acting. I think a big part of the reason for featuring this condition is trendiness. TSWWTC wants to feel like it has its finger on the pulse of current topicality.
I keep seeing people referencing the “clever” use of Gaslighting. There is no gaslighting in this movie. If you think there is, you don’t understand the definition of the term. Gaslighting is a methodical and considered form of long term domestic abuse. It is the deliberate erosion of one’s confidence and sense of self belief. It is not some kids tricking their parents into thinking someone is crazy.
The sooner Gaslighting disappears from the public’s vocabulary the better. The term is used so often it is losing its relevance. An important metaphor for a subtle form of domestic abuse is being watered down. People are equating it with simple deception and momentary deceit. People who are actually being gaslit likely won’t get the help they deserve. Shit horror movies that jump on it and use it as a plot point aren’t helping. Anyways, rant over.
Pushing all of the above to one side for a minute. There’s Something Wrong With The Children fails at pretty much every aspect of being a horror. It isn’t remotely scary, for one. There isn’t a single solitary second of taught tension. The atmosphere is completely lacking and the interesting, remote, location is wasted. Aside from how difficult it is to invest in these entirely unlikeable assholes. Opportunities to build suspense are completely abandoned. A number of characters are dispatched off screen. We don’t have a tense, protracted, scene of a character being stalked or hunted. We literally walk into a room and they are dying. Another character completely vanishes for most of the movie.
Characters react in completely unbelievable ways. I frequently mention things being “scream at the TV” levels of stupid. I doubt you will care enough to even roll your eyes here, though. The characters are dumb beyond belief. If they acted with an ounce of common sense, there would be no movie to speak of. On at least two occasions, you will be shocked at how situations play out. Let’s put it this way. There are apparently no ambulances, hospitals, doctors or police anywhere. Not even within 200 miles of this cabin. I am guessing the characters don’t fancy driving either of the cars they brought with them either. It is horribly silly.
The pay off to the story leads to more disappointment. When we finally learn what is actually wrong with these little bastards. We are rewarded with, what amounts to, shadow puppetry. I am assuming the budget didn’t stretch to special effects? Fairy tale references and visual nods move aside, opening the way for bugs and glowing eyes. It’s woefully disappointing.
Acting is mix of okay and pretty damn bad. Carlos Santos, as Thomas, is, perhaps the worst offender. He is painfully flat throughout the movie. Moments that call for emotion are answered with a slightly louder delivery. He honestly looks bored and mentally checked out. Zach Gilford, as Ben, feels like a dollar store Andy Samberg. He often seems lost with how to reflect his character’s difficult situation. His later scenes feel particularly awkward.
Alisha Wainwright is okay as Margaret. It is standard horror movie fare. Nothing special with her performance at all. Amanda Crew is probably the most capable of the cast. She does a decent job of emoting and seems fairly natural. The biggest problem might be this group’s complete lack of chemistry. Never once did I buy into the possibility that these people were friends. There was only one time they seemed authentic. That was the very satisfying scene where they all shout at each other. The rest of the time it felt like four strangers with no connection.
There’s something wrong with the kids.. That is for damn sure. The children here are so poorly directed that it impacts the movie heavily. I don’t want to say that they are bad actors. They are kids at the end of the day. With child performers, you are relying almost entirely on direction. The director needs to offer motivation and correct the child’s performance. It’s not the 8 year old’s fault that they don’t know what was intended by your poorly written script. The kids here come across as though they are playing a game. It feels like a school yard play time session. Let’s pretend to be monsters. That kind of thing.
This wouldn’t be such a big problem if the kids weren’t the focus. The silliness of their performances undermines the horror element. I mean, as if the fact that they are children doesn’t already. Much like Home Movie. There are plenty of moments where you will think “just lob them across the room, they are 3 feet tall”. The manner in which they speak is not at all sinister. They are not imposing and not threatening. This is a really good example of why the kids didn’t speak in the aforementioned Home Movie. The whole concept simply doesn’t work.
Directing is sub-par. Much like Roxanne Benjamin’s previous movie, Body At Brighton Rock, pacing is an issue. A slow, middling, first two thirds speeds up and races to an unsatisfying conclusion. There is a distinct feeling of the director realising they needed to wrap things up. It is clear that Benjamin struggles to create tension. Scares are an important part of horror and TSWWTC completely lacks them. Certain scenes feel woefully redundant and there is a tendency to smell the roses early on. Time that could have been spent building tension is wasted. Instead, they devote it to talking about foursomes and how to open a beer without a bottle opener. Things don’t kick off until 40 minutes in. The near 100 minute runtime is a chore to get through.
The script is pretty terrible. From sensitive topics like mental illness that require nuance. To writing for children in a way that they can understand and express. T.J. Cimfel and David White fall completely flat. Both of these writers have collaborated before. They have a lacklustre back catalogue which is no surprise. Their apparent absence of opportunities are likely justified. Some of the women’s dialogue comes across particularly awkward. I really wish film-makers would hire women to write for female characters.
Cinematography is unremarkable. This is a fairly bland looking movie but it does the job. Filmed in the lesser used 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The camera can feel a little anxious and jittery. The handheld nature leads to unstable pans and a fairly hyperactive presentation. The sound production is okay. There isn’t an enormous quiet loud disparity. I didn’t have to reach for the remote which is a win in my books. I’m not as bothered about differences in volume when watching on a surround sound system. Watching on a TV, though, it can be a huge annoyance. The score was decent enough and fit the theme fine.
I have ranted a tremendous amount here. If you read the whole thing, you deserve a medal. Ignoring what I find to be problematic representations of mental illness. I think There's Something Wrong With The Children is a pretty awful way to start the 2023 horror movie season for me. I haven't checked out any other horror from this year so far. Fingers crossed it improves. M3gan gives me hope. Still, it's hard to ignore just what a massive turd this film is.
A completely ulikeable cast falls victim to a pair of innocuous children. There are no scares, no tension and a complete lack of foreboding atmosphere. The less than compelling plot drags its heels for 40 minutes. All before revealing itself to be a pointless exhibition in how not to make a horror. The children are not at all imposing. The poor work of director Roxanne Benjamin leads them to not understand their motivation. These poor kids are allowed to deliver their lines as if they are playing a game in a schoolyard. The adults aren't much better with Carlos Santos, in particular, phoning his performance in. An initially promising premise is squandered. Characters are among the most stupid in horror history. Their actions make no sense and will have you rolling your eyes. The near 100 minute runtime is a horrible chore. Above all else, though, it is just not scary or at all interesting.
I am sure there are people that will enjoy this movie. If you can easily forgive awful characters and poor writing, this may be for you. If you aren't a huge horror fan, you may enjoy the lack of scares and general silliness of the story. This may pass as a sleepover horror for young teens. If you are a serious horror fan, however, just give it a miss. Check out The Children or Home Movie. They are much better examples of this type of thing.