MOVIE: The Children (2008)

If I spend the last 40 minutes of your horror film yelling (mostly swearing) at your characters, this means one of two things:  your movie is either really bad and my yells are intended as encouragement for the bad guy (GET ‘EM!), OR your movie is scaring the hoo-hah out of me.

Never in a million, trillion, bajillion years would I have expected this film to fit in that latter category.  And yet, holy fish-on-a-bicycle, did it ever.

This British flick, one of 2008’s Ghost House Underground movies (Ghost House is ex-Boyfriend Sam Raimi’s production company, by the way), is about two sisters, Elaine and Chloe, who have gotten their families together just after Christmas for a long weekend of holiday fun.  Chloe’s family owns a house way out in the snowy wilderness, and as the visit begins, the kids mostly spend their time playing in the woods, sledding and having snow ball fights, while the parents stand around in the kitchen gossiping and drinking tons of wine.  Most of the children are under the age of 10 or so, but Elaine’s eldest daughter, Casey, is about 16, precocious as hell, and adolescently sullen, bitter she got dragged along on this stupid trip when she could’ve been going to a totally sweet New Year’s Eve bash with her friends instead.  Parents totally suck.

Things are going pretty well until the holiday dinner the next evening, when, out of the blue, all the little kids start crying and screaming at the table.  While at first it seems like they’re just tired and cranky, when Chloe goes to comfort Elaine’s 10 year-old daughter, the little girl suddenly hisses at and then bites her.  Rawr!

The next thing we know, the adults are dying horrible, violent deaths, at first possibly by accident (note: never sled down a hill head-first), but then clearly viciously and intentionally.  Casey’s the first to figure it out: THE KIDS ARE NOT ALL RIGHT.  In fact, they seem to be sick with something that’s turned them into blood-thirsty little monsters.  And though anybody who’s ever seen a horror movie can pretty much take this from there, this film was so wonderfully shot, with cameras peeking here and there, not showing us what’s really happening until the final moments, that I was litrilly on the edge of my seat for the entire second half.

It was also a refreshing and complexity-adding twist to have the kids seem sick, as well (the theory seemed to be that the woods had infected them with something).  They began by vomiting, and as they grew more and more ill, seemed driven by a compulsion they weren’t fully conscious of.  And so, as each adult was confronted with the madness in their child, they also  had to confront their parental instinct to protect said child.  To want to take care of him or her.  Even while the kid was lunging at them with a paring knife.

All in all, a fine little thriller, beautifully made (lovely, lovely visuals), creatively written, and actually mother-frakkin’ goddamn scary.  Whew.  Man.  Nailed it!  Highly recommended to all fans of scary movies, and that goes double for those who have written off the “evil kid” genre after seeing far too many tediously identical installment.  I’ll definitely be checking out more of the films in this series.  See any?

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Horror
Cast: Eva Birthistle, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jeremy Sheffield, Rachel Shelley, Hannah Tointon

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11 Responses to “MOVIE: The Children (2008)”

  1. Richard Harland Smith Says:

    Yes, this was an unexpected surprise. The layering of character psychology is so deceptively deep early on between the Have Sister and her Hunky Husband and the Have-Not Sister and her Unsuccessful Husband that a lot of people miss it. (The IMDb message board responses are particularly dispiriting.) In fact, some of the close captioning is actually wrong, the captioners don’t even know what the characters are talking about. When the Have sister asks the Have Not sister if she got the article about the “MMR jabs,” the close captioning puts it as “MMR jobs”, as if Affluent Sister is trying to get Unfortunate Sister work rather than (one can easily infer if one is smart) trying to get her on the anti-vaccination bandwagon. The money tensions between the characters is what fuels the distrust later on, when the kids start to go postal and keeps them from getting together. As you say, really well done.

  2. megwood Says:

    I wasn’t picking up on Have vs. Have-Not specifically, but anybody with a sibling ought to register the jealousy-fueled tension between the two sisters.

    I thought the girl playing the eldest daughter was fantastic, by the way. The shock on her face when her step-dad locks her in that room and leaves her to die was spot-on. Even though she hated him and made no bones about it, that still took her completely by surprise. Ah, blended families. So complicated. Especially when the little ones want to carve out your chest and stick a plastic doll in it. MUMMY!

  3. Richard Harland Smith Says:

    I wasn’t picking up on Have vs. Have-Not specifically

    Do you still have the disc? Watch the part again where the two Dads have that short conversation by the car when the Have Not family (who has just had a conversation about why they can’t have a nice house like the Haves) unpacks. It comes out in a wonderfully oblique way that the Have Nots car is a cast-off of the Haves, so right away you get the sense that the one sister is living off the other sister’s leavings. And then all that stuff about home schooling and “Super Mom,” which puts Have Sister on a plane above Have-Not Sister; later when Have-Not sister is helping in the kitchen by stirring something in a Teflon pan, the Have Sister wordlessly switches out the metal scraper for a wooden spoon, in a wonderfully underplayed gesture of passive aggression. There are so many wonderful touches like that throughout.

  4. Meg Says:

    Disc is already gone, but I’ll definitely watch it again at some point and will watch for more of that stuff. First time around, I was more focused on the actual story than the nuances. I did notice the home schooling scene, though, because when the Have-Not mom says, “Are you actually qualified for that?”, the Have mom replies, “Well, now that I’m home all the time. . .” You could see the Have-Not mom kind of bristle at that. She who clearly has to work full-time to stay afloat.

    So, I was definitely picking up on a lot of jealousy between the sisters — a lot of rivalry — something I can certainly relate to. Just not thinking of it as inherently a money-based jealousy, probably because that’s NOT something I can relate to (I do feel jealous of things my sister has that I don’t have, but those things have nothing to do with money).

    I’m looking forward to watching it again now to see what else I catch second time around — that’s for pointing all this out, Richard!

    It looks like Shankland (director and writer) has directed some other films, but not written any feature-length ones. Have you seen any of his other movies? w Delta z looks kind of intriguing — got a bit of a thing for Stellan Skarsgård.

  5. Richard Harland Smith Says:

    No, the director was a complete unknown to me but I’d be curious to see him do something else. Did you watch any of the making-of featurettes? It’s sort of a nice way to come down after the ick factor of The Children.

  6. Meg Says:

    I watched a few minutes of the one that was about working with the kids, but got bored. I’m not a huge fan of “making of” featurettes, I confess!

  7. Hollie Says:

    So basically what you’re saying is that I should watch this when I’m doing EXPOSURE THERAPY for my panic attacks? 🙂

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  9. stacey Says:

    where can i buy the movie??

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