Tom Shankland’s horror film The Children joins the ranks of movies that feature killer kids, the same kind of tots that should be excited for the Christmas season because they’re going to be receing iPad Airs and PlayStation 4s and other things that even I can’t afford to buy myself. What’s wrong with these kids? They should be pumped about all the crazy gifts they’re receiving!
To be fair, though, The Children actually takes place after Christmas, right before New Year’s Day. Perhaps the kids had had enough of shoddy toys made from wood that Daddy tried to throw together right before Christmas Day, or maybe they were snubbed a Red Ryder BB Gun for the third year in a row. Whatever the case, the kids in the film are seriously not happy with their parents or really anyone at all, and they begin to revolt during a fairly calm Christmas vacation.
Shankland seems familiar with the tropes of the sub-genre, so he often circumvents them. One thing that’s striking about The Children is that it never tries to explain why the kids begin to go crazy. The only common denominator is that they all get sick with nausea and vomiting right before they go berserk, and that seems to indicate a communicable disease passed between children.
It adds to the plot because it’s difficult for the adults to accept that something is wrong with their kids. The relative calm of the beginning of the film allows the viewer to get to know the parents, and generally speaking, Shankland infuses all of them with good and bad qualities. Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore) is more interested in teaching his kids Chinese than he is with actual parenting skills; Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield) has a strangely intimate relationship with the teenage Casey (Hannah Tointon). It’s nice to get time to meet these characters and how they interact with their children before they’re murdered.
And murdered they are in wonderful, wintery ways, enough so that The Children fits in with the Shitmas celebration quite well. Shankland doesn’t cut corners here, and there are a few very inventive ways that he chooses to off his characters. One of them includes a toboggan and a rake, a gory scene that uses the thought of the act rather than grisly footage to make its mark on the viewer.
The Children is very minimal, and it often lingers on scenarios without doing much with them. The tense sequences are created by putting all characters in potentially dangerous situations at the same time, by splitting them up into groups. Then, Shankland can play with expectations, and it’s often difficult to tell who is actually going to be sliced and diced by the tots.
The film ends without concluding, leaving the whole thing open to interpretation. It’s clear that the world will not be the same, and the monstrous children are not limited to the one house we’ve been viewing. But the film leaves the viewer on a cliffhanger that may or may not be acceptable to some; in a way, the inevitability of the situation should be apparent, and yet there is a sense of unfinished business where Shankland leaves us.
But hey, we’re not done here; we’ve got to talk about all of the holiday shit in this Shitmas film! Though the movie takes place after Christmas, the decorations and spirit of the holiday still linger. The house is festooned with garland, lights, and other decorations, and the beginning of the film almost feels like it takes place on Christmas Eve. Most of the film takes place outside in the snow as well, so the cold of winter seeps into the film’s tense scenes for chilling effect. The winter environment works perfectly for the film because it creates an environmental problem that stalls the police from coming and the survivors from leaving the house.
All told, The Children is a surprisingly good movie that uses its predecessors in the sub-genre without piggybacking off of them. These killer children will color in your Christmas a bright and bloody red.