Kids are, for the most part, genuinely spooky little creatures. Go ahead; just look at them. They seem to exist on a plane of their own, talking to imaginary beings, playing insular little games in their rooms, occasionally jabbering on and on about nothing in particular or suddenly flying off into inconsolable rages. What if those imaginary beings they’re talking to aren’t imaginary at all? What if those quiet games they’re playing in their room aren’t games, but rather a planning session in preparation for when the tyke uprising begins?
These are the kinds of things I spend my days thinking about. That is why I’m on medication. However, it seems I’m not alone, as Tom Shankland seems to know exactly what I’m talking about, and has even made a deliciously dark film about it with 2008’s British chiller, The Children.
Sisters, Elaine (Eva Birthistle) and Chloe (Rachel Shelly) are reunited for the holidays at Chloe and her husband, Robbie’s (Jeremy Sheffield) isolated estate, where the plan calls for lots of food, lots of cheer, and, if Elaine’s boyfriend, Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore), has his way, lots of discussion about investment opportunities in Chinese medicine. Elaine’s rebellious teen daughter, Casey (the outrageously attractive Hannah Tointon), wants nothing more than to skulk off into the wilderness to be as far away from her the gathering, but the two couples other young children are getting along famously. Perhaps too famously.
As each of the children begin to exhibit signs of illness, starting with a seemingly innocuous cough, and culminating into extreme agitation, the jovial spirit of the season starts to sour. Suddenly, the family cat’s gone missing, Jonah’s daughter is shrieking in hysterics, and Robbie and Chloe’s children have seemed to gone off their respective rockers. Even Elaine’s sweet autistic son, Paulie, starts to exhibit violent behavior, with all of it culminating in an “accidental” death that leads to panic, terror, and the revelation that their innocent little babies are now bloodthirsty killing machines.
The Children is a bit of a slow-burn, but, once it gets rolling, it’s a relentless little thriller that will have you screaming, laughing, and recoiling in disgust, oftentimes all at once. Shankland’s direction here is simply pitch perfect, as he quietly establishes his characters and their circumstances, before throwing them headlong into the second act’s screaming crescendo, and, finally, sees them limping bruised and battered into a bone-chilling climax. It’s all expertly executed, stylishly shot, and as polished as any big-budget Hollywood thriller.
The performances are well above average across the board, especially that of the lovely Mrs. Tointon. The twentysomething actress shines in the role of Casey, whether teasing her “cool” uncle Robbie with her Lolita-esque sex kitten act, or kicking pre-adolescent psycho kid ass. I was also quite impressed with Stephen Campbell Moore. His Jonah is equal parts doting dad, sleazeball salesman, and foppish dandy, and his subtle mannerisms and droll delivery provide some of the film’s funniest bits.
Lionsgate brings The Children to Blu-ray as part of the Ghost House Underground series. The film is presented in a sturdy 1.85:1 transfer that offers a sharp, detailed image overall, but suffers from occasional bouts of softness, and lacks a true sense of depth and dimension. Colors and skin tones are well represented and fairly vibrant, blacks are lush and true, and there’s only a hint of fine cinematic grain on display, here, with nary a hint of artifacting or digital compression. It’s a pleasing image, and a moderate upgrade over its DVD counterpart (which I watched earlier in the week), but it’s not one you’ll be using to show off the capabilities of the medium.
The 5.1 Dolby DTS Master Audio soundtrack really packs a wallop. Surround effects are abundant and truly all-encompassing, while the ominous bass heavy score rattled the floorboards. The mix is a bit uneven, as dialogue was a bit tough to pick up on at lower volumes while musical stings and screams found me fumbling with the remote in a panic to turn it down. If grouchy neighbors or, as in my case, sleeping toddlers, are of no concern, by all means crank this one up as it’s a shockingly good audio track.
Extras include a “Making of The Children” doco, several short production featurettes, deleted scenes, trailers, and more. Featurettes are all presented in 480p, and, while there’s no commentary track, the featurettes cover virtually everything from location scouting to working with the titular children, and the abundance of interviews and behind-the-scenes insight pretty much answer any question one could have about the film. Other extras include a “Ghost House Microfilm” and an assortment of trailers (1080p).
The Children is a wonderfully twisted, creepy, and atmospheric thriller that boasts a solid script, great performances, and showcases burgeoning talents in both director, Shankland, and star, Tointon. The Blu-ray offers a solid image, excellent audio, and an abundance of quality special features, making this one easy to recommend to horror fans looking to add some creepy kid flair to their BD collections.