The Children – Review
A relaxing Christmas vacation turns into a terrifying fight for survival as the children begin to turn on their parents.
We are officially one week into our Awful Advent 25 Days of Christmas horror feature. I hope the Christmas present shopping is going good. I imagine many of you have your Christmas tree up by now. What better way to continue the festive fun than watching another Christmas themed horror? Maybe you want to practice for the big day by spending some time with a bunch of screaming kids? Well we have the perfect movie in store for you for day 7. It is the British “Kids go Nuts” horror movie The Children from 2008.
This is a bit of a strange movie. Feeling at least somewhat similar to The Children of the Corn and playing on the evil child trope from The Omen. The Children sees a group of kids infected with something that changes their personalities. The result is a lot of violence and a hell of a Christmas holiday for their parents. Set at a grand estate somewhere in England. The Children takes place after Christmas in the week leading up to New Year. With this in mind, it is perfectly fitting for this theme. Let’s take a look. As always, I will offer a quick breakdown of the movie. Feel free to skip that if you like.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. With that being said. Check back every day of December for something new.
The Children – Synopsis
The Children follows a young family as they take a trip to spend New Year with their relatives. Elaine and Jonah are accompanied by Elaine’s oldest daughter Casey. In the back of the car are Elaine and Jonah’s children Miranda and Paulie. Arriving at the house of Elaine’s older sister Chloe, played by Rachel Shelley. The family are greeted by Chloe and her husband Robbie, played by Jeremy Sheffield. Paulie chucks his guts up outside of the car. Assuming it’s just travel sickness, the family head inside.
Elaine’s children spend time playing with their cousins. It isn’t long before they too begin showing signs of illness. The family engage in the usual Christmas traditions. Having snow ball fights, handing out presents, drinking and eating too much. After a short while the kids start to display strange behaviour. They are acting up and showing signs of defiant behaviour. Casey, who appears to be a bit of a rebellious teen, secretly makes plans to go to a party. In the meantime, however, she is tasked with watching the kids.
As the family sit around the table eating. Miranda claims to be feeling sick. Attempting to comfort her, Chloe has her face scratched by the young girl who is now throwing a tantrum. Robbie moves the kids outside while the rest of the family deals with the issue. Casey is told to go with him but heads off to the woods to use the phone. Minutes later, a tragedy strikes which will change the family forever.
Christmas and New Year Chaos
Directed by Tom Shankland, The Children is a horror movie focusing on two families spending new year together. The children appear to have been infected with a mysterious illness. The infection alters the kid’s personalities turning them into little monsters. Children that were once nice and cheerful are, all of a sudden, twisted. They become evil, murderous, and extremely conniving. While this is going on, the adults remain, seemingly, completely unaware.
Set in a stunning grand estate in the middle of winter. The Children is afforded an interesting, unique, location and a nice aesthetic. The snow and decorations also make it perfectly fitting for the festive season. Far away from surrounding towns, the isolation gives way to plenty of mayhem. There are loads of places to run and lots of places to hide. Perfect for a group of marauding evil kids to do their dirty work.
When they begin to notice changes in their children. The parent’s natural instincts make them think it is nothing. They don’t want to believe the worst about their own kids. Even as the evidence becomes more apparent, the ignorant denial continues. The parents continually place themselves in dangerous situations. Not imagining for one second that they are at any risk. Their natural inclination is to look to external sources for an explanation. Thus they place the blame on to another person. It just so happens that this person is the only one who can see what is actually going on. The result is a dramatic final act and some fairly well realised tension.
Christmas With The Kids Can Be Hell
Do you think this movie was written by someone who had a bad Christmas experience with kids? I can just imagine someone sitting in the living room. Children running around them. Screaming in that hyperactive way they do on Christmas. Wishing they were anywhere else but right there. In that moment, the seed of a story was planted. The Children aims to capture the chaos that so many experience over the holidays. It does this very well. It then takes that chaos, condenses it and runs it through a horror movie blender. The result is something quite effective.
The constant screaming plays a central role in discombobulating the viewer. For much of the film it is the primary form of sound. Whereas most movies and TV shows tend to dial this kind of thing back. Placing it as almost a background noise. The Children blasts it into your ears. It works extremely effectively at placing you right in the middle of the chaos. If you are someone that isn’t too fond of the whole “children” experience. You are going to feel every single painful second of this. It is ear piercing to say the least.
As events escalate, the screaming and laughter only grows louder. Naturally, this all appears to be very deliberate. It adds to the confusion and the feeling of mania that permeates the entire film. It gets into your head and leaves you feeling almost frustrated. Rapid camera cuts come along with the noise to add to the mess. Overwhelming the viewer in this manner is a decent way to unnerve them. Doing it with the sound of kids screaming is just cruel.
But Are Kids Really Scary?
I talked about this a little in my review of The Innocents and Home Movie. Both of these films feature children doing bad things. Do kids make for good antagonists? Plenty of horror movie makers seem to think so. This is just one of a number of films featuring kids gone crazy. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. The thing with The Children is that there are a couple of points where the kids just don’t seem that imposing. They don’t have special powers the way they do in The Innocents. These are just regular children that happen to be slightly more evil than normal kids. They are small and appear as though they would be easy to fight off, should the need arise. It sounds silly to say but the final scene from Stepbrothers came to mind when watching this movie.
I can’t help bit think this would be a fairly easy problem to deal with. This really undermines the main horror element of the film. Some of the events that lead up to their kills seem a bit ridiculous. It’s not so much scary as just a bit farcical. A big part of the problem is that the adults have to make stupid decisions to set up the violence. There are at least a couple of points where you will be asking yourself why a character is doing what they are doing. The only answer is that there was no other way to make the children seem dangerous. Sure, they are conniving and cruel but they are not capable. There are numerous points in the movie where the children could have been stopped. The only reason they aren’t is because the adults choose not to. It just lacks plausibility.
Crazy Camera Cuts and Lots of Noise
When I first started watching this movie. I almost instantly asked myself why the background music was playing so loud. It is immediately apparent in the opening scene. It turned out that this is just what The Children does. The same tune plays loudly in numerous parts of the film. It’s quite annoying and, when combined with the aforementioned screaming, can be overwhelming. I am not sure what the logic was behind this. It is terribly distracting and very hard to block out. In fact, at times, the music seems louder than the character dialogue. It’s something of a shame as the score is very fitting and well done.
There are a lot of erratic camera cuts to navigate, as well. Camera work, as a whole, is a bit messy. There are certain scenes featuring extended slow motion for, seemingly, no reason. I would understand this if it lead up to something but it doesn’t. It’s like the editor found the slow motion button for the first time and was insistent on trying it out.
Wild camera cuts feature throughout. Scenes where the kids are attacking can be difficult to follow. The camera will flick from one person to the next and back again. It changes from one angle to another before zooming in and back out. It feels messy and chaotic. I am assuming this is intended but it makes for a difficult watch. I would imagine some of this is designed to hide the stunt work. Still, it feels disorganised and cheapens the look of the film.
An Annoying Family and a Bad Script
Wow is this family ever unlikable. If the aim of The Children is to make us care about the victims. It fails miserably. Every adult in this movie is horribly annoying. All of them seem pompous and up their own arses. Jonah is a business man. He spends the entire duration of the film promoting alternative medicine. Chloe is incredibly fake and overly bubbly. Elaine is, apparently, pregnant but spends much of the film smoking and drinking. Robbie is a creep that seems far too close to his young, teenage, niece. Said teenage niece is an alternative caricature. She flirts inappropriately with a blood relative. Has an annoying voice and some terrible dialogue.
I know that crafting likeable characters is a tough thing to do. But I will never understand film makers expecting us to relate to people like these. I was actually happy to see the kids getting their own back. It must have been bad enough living with them. The interpersonal relationships between the characters don’t warm them to you, either. As mentioned above, I found the scenes between Casey and her uncle to be incredibly creepy. The thing is, it didn’t even add anything to the story or go anywhere. It just left my fiancée and I wondering what the point was? Needless to say, the character writing is pretty bad and that extends to the script itself.
Some of the dialogue is incredibly awkward. Casey, in particular, falls victim to this. At one point she says “I am so sad I could fart!”… I am fairly sure I heard this line correctly. For a minute I had to double take as it is so ridiculous. Do humans even talk like this? Who the hell put that to paper and thought “yeah, that sounds like something a 15 year old girl would say”. Pathetic writing and that is one of many examples of extremely unnatural dialogue.
Despite the bad script, The Children does do a decent job of building a nice sense of tension. It starts off slowly with just hints that something is wrong. As more of the kids become ill, the events start to ramp up a fair bit. Simple disobedience turns into violence. Violence turns into murderous intent. Perpetrated by just one of the kids at first, it isn’t long before they are working together. By the time the first major incident takes place, the tension is well established.
The movie does a good job of keeping you guessing as to what will happen next. There is the constant question of how will this play out, as well. These are the victim’s children, after all. How can they possibly address that? Surely they wouldn’t want to harm their own kids. It’s a great way of keeping that tension going and keep the viewer guessing. The ending is fairly satisfying, as well, though does slip into a bit of a predictable cliché.
For those of you who are fans of gore, there are some pretty effective scenes here and there. The Children is one of those movies that enjoys relishing in injury detail. It is fairly graphic. Despite the less than plausible events that lead up to said injuries. Some of them are pretty well done and will likely make you wince. I will point out that seeing violence against children never feels anything other than awkward. Some of it is somewhat graphic. One scene towards the end, however, is hilarious due to how silly it looks.
Acting is Mixed
First off, all of the kids are great. They look to be having a great time playing evil little buggers. They all do a brilliant job and are even believable when just playing together like normal kids do. The adults are not so good. Rachel Shelley chews the scenery a fair bit. Her later scenes are particularly lacklustre. It seemed like she had a seriously difficult time realistically portraying fear and emotion. She came across as if she was overacting, plain and simple. Stephen Campbell Moore, as Jonah, was fine. Jeremy Sheffield, as Robbie, was okay too. Eva Birthistle felt a little awkward interacting with the kids at first. She gets a lot better later on, however.
Hanna Tointon, as Casey, gives such a weird performance. It was as if she was putting on a high pitched, breathy, voice throughout. It was strange and I couldn’t help but notice it. She was around 20 when she played this role so maybe she was attempting to seem younger? I don’t know but the director should have told her to talk normally. Every time she has to speak she takes me out of the scene. Her delivery is incredibly awkward. Towards the end of the movie, however, she comes on fantastically. When tasked with displaying emotion and fear, she was excellent. She is very convincing in the last 20 minutes or so and pretty much carries the finale.
Is it a Knockout?
The Children is a fairly effective Brit horror that does a nice job of building up some tension. Slow paced at first, the last 20 minutes or so really ramp up the action. A fairly compelling story that feels a little unique manages to keep you gripped. The stunning location and Christmassy setting make for a really nice aesthetic.
Mediocre acting and some incredibly stupid adult characters undermine the scares. These are annoying people that are difficult to invest in. The kids aren't particularly imposing and it's hard not to think all of the problems could have been stopped or prevented with ease. Some manic camera work can make for uncomfortable viewing. This is still worth a watch for horror fans, however. It is tense and feels at least a little different from much of the horror doing the rounds.