Lionsgate // 2008 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 6th, 2009
You brought them into this world. They'll take you out.
"Hey, we don't hit children here!"
As so many horrifying stories do, The Children begins on a note of considerable happiness. It's almost Christmas, and an English family is getting together for the holidays. The reunion consists of grown-ups Chloe (Rachel Shelley, The L Word), Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield, Last Chance Harvey), Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore, The Bank Job), and Elaine (Eva Birthistle, Breakfast on Pluto), children Leah (Raffiella Brooks), Nicky (Jake Hathaway), Paulie (William Howes), and Miranda (Eva Sayer) and one cynical teenager named Casey (Hannah Tointon, HollyOaks). Alas, shortly after the family gets together, a couple of the kids start to feel a bit sick. The grown-ups believe the sickness to be a cold or virus of some sort, but little do they know that the disease will soon turn their children into terrifying, cold-blooded killers.
Creepy children have been an important part of the horror genre for quite some time. Whether they're merely being used as an unsettling side item (The Shining) or the main course (The Omen), we get a pretty steady diet of films featuring wide-eyed little brats with evil intentions every decade. Added to the pile is the simply-titled The Children, a surprisingly effective and engaging little horror film written and directed by Tom Shankland. The film breaks no new ground and doesn't really offer any real surprises, but it does what it does with an impressive level of inventiveness and tenacity. It's pretty much what a movie about murderous kids attempting to kill their parents should be; nothing more and nothing less.
The film actually opens on an exceptionally slow note, spending some time demonstrating what sort of characters we're dealing with. The film gives us two different sets of parents with different mentalities in terms of raising their children. Chloe and Robbie are gentle, easy-going, understanding parents that would never dream of spanking their children. They're the sort of parents who give their children gold stars for good behavior and punish the little ones by kindly saying, "Now, we're not going to do that again, are we?" On the flip side, Jonah and Elaine are a good deal sterner. They do spank their kids and expect the young ones to be well-behaved and polite at all times. It's important that we spend a bit of time getting to know what kind of parents these people are, because their attitudes towards their children partially informs how they react when their kids turn evil.
There is actually a bit of emotional weight to the proceedings, as the idea of a parent being forced to kill their own child is admittedly a very sobering one. It's particularly interesting watching the parents slowly but surely figuring out what is going on. It must be determined that the children have actually become evil creatures and aren't just acting out and accidentally causing terrible things to happen. The appropriate level of response for each scenario is dramatically different, of course, so imagine how challenging it must be to switch one's mentality from "I will do anything to protect my child" to "I must kill my child to save myself." Not that this is intensely revealing drama or anything. Far from it; The Children is very much a B-horror flick, but it's better than it actually has to be.
Once the film hits the 35-minute mark or so, it plunges full speed ahead into the anticipated violent nightmare and doesn't let up until the credits roll. Shankland helms the horror with an impressive combination of colorful flair and sinister atmosphere, creating action sequences that crackle with energy and suspense sequences that understand the value of letting a shot linger for a while. Shankland also gives the film a nice sense of location by inserting several brief scenes observing the wintry, desolate woods surrounding the house. The level of violence is carefully moderated as well, as Shankland saves the truly bloody and gory material for the moments that count. Some of the scenes of violence actually occur offscreen, as the filmmakers clearly recognize that sometimes another person's reaction to violence is more involving than simply witnessing an act of violence.
The hi-def transfer is decent enough, proving satisfactory but hardly standard-setting. Detail is merely adequate (landscape shots with lots of background detail fare better than facial close-ups), but blacks are nice and deep. The color palette (contrasting lots of darker tones against the white snow outside) is quite satisfying. The audio is slightly disappointing, however, particularly in terms of the dialogue. There are moments when conversations seem to suffer from weak dubbing and from being too quiet in contrast to the sound design. However, the musical score comes through with considerable clarity, and the track does an impressive job of giving your entire speaker system a workout.
The extras are primarily comprised of a handful of featurettes: "Making of The Children" (19 minutes), "Working with the Children" (five minutes), "Shooting on Location" (four minutes), "Paul Hyett Tals Prosthetics" (five minutes), "Snow Set Design" (six minutes), and "Inside Tom Shankland's On-Set Lair" (eight minutes). You also get a handful of deleted scenes, an insufferable series of "micro music videos" featuring terrible rock songs, and a trailer for the film.
If you're looking for something to add to your Halloween horror movie marathon pile, The Children is a worthwhile candidate. While the Blu-ray release is merely okay, the film is an impressive low-budget outing.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Videos