Some of you may recall that I wrote a review of this film awhile back. In that article, I gave this 2008 release from Ghost House productions high praise for many reasons, including a superior directing turn by Tom Shankland, solid performances all around (especially from Hannah Tointon as Casey) and the flawless pacing and structure of its story. That review is still available to those who are interested, so I'll try not to repeat myself too much here. However, I've seen The Children numerous times since writing that five star review and the fact that it holds up equally well after repeated viewings pretty much dictated that it needed to be situated near the top of this countdown.
I hope you'll forgive me if I do take a moment to rave about Ms. Tointen's performance again. This is an aspect of The Children that I have only grown more impressed by over time. Tointen does some subtle and cool things with her role, turning Casey into a compelling "final girl". Though she at first seems standoffish and disaffected, Casey fights hard for herself and her mother, Elaine (Eva Birthistle) once the terror begins. Whereas many final girls scream helplessly every time they hear the slightest noise or see a shadow on a wall, Casey usually seems to scream out of rage and aggression. She screams because she's about to fuck the little monster kids up, rather than because the very sight of them renders her witless. Though there are definitely moments in the film where Casey is justifiably terrified and confused, her volatile reaction to these emotions makes her one of the tougher young women in horror. The fact that Casey is made of such stern stuff adds extra emotional depth to The Children's already haunting conclusion, as a sudden, slight change in her facial expression tells the viewer everything they need to know about whether or not she'll get any kind of happy ending. This moment could easily have fallen flat under the care of the wrong actress, but Tointen really knocks it out of the park.
Another cool thing about this film is that it can't be conveniently lumped into any one subgenre. Yes, it's a movie about killer kids (and possibly the best ever), but its also kind of a new spin on the zombie mythos. There's no evidence the evil children here have actually died and then come back to life, but their violent behavior and sudden fascination with gore is caused by a flu-like sickness that is reminiscent of a zombie virus. It even makes them deathly pale and causes strange sores to break out behind their ears. Yet there are also differences that are unique to this film, since anyone above a certain age seems to be unaffected, and since it does not turn its victims into drooling, lumbering automatons. If anything, the illness seems to make the kids a lot smarter and more cunning than they could have possibly been before they contracted it. The idea of an offshoot of the zombie virus which makes its victims smarter and better at killing is a new one, and to me, it's rather intriguing.
The events of The Children all take place during the earliest stages of whatever is going on, and it centers around a small group of characters in a contained environment. If it has anything that can be called a flaw, it's that this smaller, more intimate scale makes it impossible for the film to come anywhere close to fully explaining what this sickness is or what caused it. However, franchises have been built on beginning chapters which leave certain elements vague and the ending definitely leaves plenty of room for a sequel. Besides, the tighter narrative focus this film takes, showing us a single family unit being torn apart by this sickness in a matter of hours, is another element that makes The Children unique and probably adds to how effectively scary it is. What happens under just this one roof is so horrific and heartbreaking that when a hint is finally dropped that we're only seeing a single microcosm of a much larger terror, it hits you like a kick in the stomach. Similar revelations have been included in horror movies before, but as demonstrated here, they can still pack a wallop when handled with originality and presented at just the right time.
Horror fans who are always looking out for the next great death scene can also find a lot of delight in The Children. Although it doesn't have a huge body count, the kill scenes it does feature are chilling and quite creative. What's even more chilling is that the kids didn't lose their playfulness when they gained their bloodlust. You know how it is with growing kids. One day they want to play with Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes and the next they only want to play with the corpses of their victims. I used to think the most memorable, scariest scene in The Children was the one where they sucker one of the adults into going sledding with them and then shove him down a hill to his doom. Now I realize that the scene where his wife finds out what happened to his body afterward is the scariest, especially since the killer children are darting around her in circles and giggling while she makes the gruesome discovery.
Upon watching this film multiple times, I've also picked up a little bit more of its message about family dynamics. Namely, that finding yourself on the wrong side of them can be lethal during a crisis. Casey is something of a black sheep in her family. She isn't as supportive of her mom's relationship with her new husband, Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore) as they expect her to be. Her uncle Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield) always seems to be hitting on her, which not only puts Casey in a weird and creepy position, but also seems to make her aunt Chloe (Rachel Shelley) a little suspicious and jealous. All of this comes back to bite Casey once the children start playing their sinister games. Everyone is so used to blaming her for things that it's all too easy for her surviving relatives to turn on her, holding her responsible for the crimes of their own children, even in the face of mounting evidence that disproves their theory. When families become irrational, the black sheep always gets ganged up on; a fact that very nearly gets Casey killed. The only one who stands by her at all is her mother, but Elaine is not exactly in a condition to be of much help for a lot of the movie's run time.
As far as I'm concerned, few movies about either killer children or zombies have ever gotten as much right as this one. Hell, I'd go so far as to say few horror movies of any kind are nearly this accomplished. Taut, scary and ruthless about ramping the tension up with nearly every shot, The Children is a dark delicacy that is often overlooked. Which makes it especially satisfying to give it a heaping portion of countdown love.
Stay tuned for my next installment!