Who doesn’t love an advent calendar? Around the Daily Grindhouse virtual offices, we decided the only way to make the advent calendar better is to replace what you might traditionally find behind the door with Christmas horror movies! So everyday from December 1st through to Christmas, we will be highlighting a different movie for our horror-loving readers to celebrate the season. Our film for Day Two is THE CHILDREN!
I don’t have kids and I have never wanted any. For the most part, I am uncomfortable around children. Unless I have several drinks in me, I am largely a reserved, quiet person; so rowdy, loud adolescents usually make me uncomfortable and annoyed. For that reason, I found the early scenes in THE CHILDREN almost unbearable as the filmmakers present the Christmas holiday reunion of two sisters and their respective, hyperactive children that run from four to ten years of age. After ten minutes, I was ready to hit stop on the film, but then a virus comes along and turns the kids into bloodthirsty killers that the adults are forced to fight back against and I was far more comfortable with the subject matter. I suppose that says more about me than the movie…
What took me aback about THE CHILDREN is just how grim and mean it gets. I expected a more darkly comedic story that works as a metaphor for how frazzled parents reach their breaking point with their unruly spawn. There are elements of very dark humor that writer/director Tom Shankland injects into the film as he presents the two sets of parents as borderline horrible people who may actually be less mature than their oldest kids. But that is as funny as events get. Once the graphic horror begins, the film goes pitch black and pulls no punches in its depiction of violence against both the adults and their vicious children.
The central hook of the film is subversive enough on its own, but Shankland further stacks the deck by not only pitting parents against children, but also by having the events play out over the Christmas holiday in a big country house that is the picture of domestic warmth. That tranquil picture is upended as a snow sled is used in a murder, monkey bars are employed in a scheme that ends with a nasty compound fracture, a greenhouse becomes the setting for a grim life-or-death struggle, and a child’s baby doll toy is left protruding from a massive stomach wound. If you haven’t guessed it yet, there are moments where THE CHILDREN borders on a splatter film.
I am not going to stump for THE CHILDREN as an unsung classic of the Christmas horror subgenre, but it checks off many of the boxes for me when it comes to horror that tries to be a little more subversive because it moves quickly, is not afraid to stomp into tasteless territory, and never gives in to sentimentality. If you are going to make a movie about kids and parents engaged in a violent death match, taking any sort of half measures is going to greatly compromise the results. Shankland understands that and embraces the potentially controversial nature of his film with all the grisly imagery and uncomfortable plot twists that requires.
If not for an oddly choppy first half that feels like several bits were awkwardly edited out (notably, it’s implied several times that the kids kill a cat before moving on to their real targets, but every time Shankland goes to confirm this, it feels like several frames are removed from the film, resulting in a strange jump cut) and an atmosphere that eventually becomes too nihilistic, THE CHILDREN would probably be added to the rotation of my yearly Christmas films. Instead, it will have to settle for being a solid Christmas horror flick that goes nastier than you might expect. There is nothing wrong with that, but with as good as it gets at times, it does feel slightly like a missed opportunity.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)