The Children (2008)

With Hollywood vomiting out horror re-makes so fast they forget to include anything even remotely original, it’s nice to see Britain continuing to take a stand on the originality front, bringing genuinely surprisingly, thought-provoking horrors to the screen. Quality of late includes Mum & Dad, Outpost and Eden Lake, the latter winning acclaim throughout the world. The Children can be added to this recent list of decent British horror films – a tense, disturbing and thought-provoking movie.

Two families gather in the country to celebrate the coming of a New Year, but what is supposed to be a time of celebration turns into a violent struggle to survive when their own children start to become unusually violent. A creepy idea which raises the disturbing question – if your kids starting trying to kill you, what would you do? Pushing the Eden Lake child-killing envelope even further, it forces the audience to ask questions they’d rather not, like a bloodier, nasty version of Gone Baby Gone.

It begins with a family of five arriving at their relatives’ home, where young son Paulie is promptly sick in a bush outside. He looks ill, very ill, but the adults appear to be aware that Paulie is often like this. Bordering on being autistic, he is very quiet and does not join in with the games the other children play. William Howes is superb as Paulie, and very disturbing when he has to be – a sad innocence on the outside, but this clear burgeoning anger beneath the surface – no mean feat for a child so young.

Gradually the other children become affected, with the exception of teenager Casey (the sadly unsympathetic Hannah Tointon) and start to confuse and scare the adults. This slowly builds up with disquieting things happening, beginning with foreboding glances and angry fits at the table dinner and escalating substantially.

The action is deftly handled, if occasionally tipping towards cliché and absurdity. The children do gradually become more cunning and sneaky, but to an almost silly level where luck surely plays a larger part than a new found, utterly brutal intelligence. At one point they set up a trap with a sledge and a conveniently placed gardening fork. It sadly detracts from the overall feeling of dread and helplessness when the set-pieces are overdone and distinctly unrealistic.

The Children is not free from cliché; communication with the outside world is poor, they’re isolated in the snowy countryside, people fall over a lot, and some of the decisions made seem almost entirely insane. The majority of the terror and tension normally comes from somebody leafing through the book of “dumb things to do in a horror situation” and enacting it play-by-play. This isn’t horribly distracting, though, and they’re well created and certainly nasty in places. The deaths of some of the children are unpleasant and it disturbs the viewer when you find yourself routing for someone who has just murdered a little boy.

The idea is overwhelmingly better than the execution, but with enough going on with feuding family subplots, a rebellious teenager, and some genuinely interesting characters it is a compelling, interesting horror with a few decent scares. Well worth a watch.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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