(Imagine this said in a slow, stoned college-guy voice):
That. Was. Pret-ty. Awwwesome.
Oh, man - The Children, you guys! Pretty great! Just look at that picture. Jesus, they look like evil little fuckers, don’t they? Just real demonic pieces of shit. Can’t you just picture them stabbing someone to death? Or pushing someone off of a cliff? They probably would, too, wouldn’t they? Little bastards. You’d probably like to see them stopped before they hurt somebody, wouldn’t you? Me, too, guys, me too. Which is why you’re in luck - not just a little bit of luck, not just a vain hope that something unpleasant might befall the little monsters, but real, honest-to-God luck. And that’s because of this: These little motherfuckers get DEALT with, son. Knamean? That’s right, shit gets ILL good and proper in this movie, and you get to see some adorable little moppets get BEAT. THE. FUCK. UP.
Perhaps this needs a bit of prelude. See, for several years now, I’ve had swirling around in my head an essay on the last taboo of American/Western-world horror cinema: the child death scene. Seriously, try to find it - a scene in a horror movie where a child just gets raw MURDERED, right in front of your eyes. Spoiler alert: you’re not gonna find it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are some nasty little cult films out there that deal in child death, but unlike the death of any adults (or even horny teen) in a horror film, the death will - WITHOUT FAIL - take place off-screen. I’ve had people try and argue with me here: “But Alex, surely you’ve seen Pet Semetary, haven’t you? The whole damn movie OPENS with the child Gage being killed by a speeding truck!” Really? Go back and watch it again. I’ll wait. (I tried to find the clip on youtube, but alas, no luck. Sorry.) The scene is so well shot, you don’t even realize that the actual death has been completely elided in the editing. You never see him get hit. You never see him breathe his last. It cuts from Gage running into the road to his lifeless body in his father’s arms. And so it goes, in movie, after movie, after movie. We talk about how the extremity of horror films has desensitized us; about how the films disparagingly called “torture porn” have no other motives but to endless shock us with the most graphic, unpleasant, disturbing imagery possible. EXCEPT, it would seem, child death. Interesting, no? Why is this the line that movies won’t cross? There’s something about watching an innocent child die that really crosses some internal line with people, maybe? I have a number of theories about this, but this post isn’t the place.
Now for the small caveat: as I mentioned, there are, obviously, a few exceptions to this rule. There are certain b-movies, mostly from the seventies, but a few in recent years, that have depicted a child being killed, though it’s exceedingly rare. (The best exception to this rule is a spectacular little Spanish film from 1976 entitled Who Can Kill A Child? If you’re looking for death in the 12-and-under demographic, look no further.) More recently, Hostel II is one of the only American horror films I can think of that actually depicts a child being killed, though two things sort of weaken its claim to actually doing so: the boy is arguably in his teens, and the kill shot (a woman shoots him in the head) is done from a mid-range camera shot, under cover of shadow, so that nothing but the outlines of bodies are really seen. (Nonetheless, kudos, Mr. Roth.)
An even more important rule, however, is followed by even these rare examples of films showing a child’s death, and this one is NEVER broken: the child must be evil. That’s right, the little brat has to be a spawn of Satan, or a devil child, or possessed, or a zombie, or infected, or without a conscience, or… you get the idea. Something about the kid must be irredeemable in some way, in order to justify the representation of his or her death. Otherwise….what? There will be rioting in the streets? People will burn the film? I don’t know. I mean, like I said, I have a few ideas I will share elsewhere, but I can really say I think this is one of the last true taboos of cinema, even cinema that prides itself on being the most appalling, reprehensible piece of trash imaginable. You don’t see the kid get shot in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, though, much like Pet Semetary, the scene still packs an unbelievable wallop. But still, no good kids, so says the unwritten rule; no nice boys and girls can get the axe on-screen.*
Which is why a movie like The Children is such damn wicked fun. Elaine and Jonah, a married couple who are stressed but seem generally solid, bring their three children (rebellious Casey, 17; and young Miranda and Paulie, roughly 8 or 9 years old apiece) to their friends’/counsins’ home for a Christmas weekend. Robbie and Chloe have two kids of their own, Leah and Nicky, about the same ago as Miranda and Paulie. When they first arrive, Paulie, who clearly has some form of autism, gets sick, and throw up outside the house; Elaine assumes it’s just a bit of carsickness. However, the other children also soon fall ill, but quickly recover. Then, what starts as a series of unfortunate accidents quickly becomes apparent to older sister Casey: something is wrong with the children. Very wrong. As the injuries start and most of the adults remain blindly ignorant of what is becoming rapidly clear, it’s up to Casey to convince the others that the children mean them harm. A LOT of harm.
While I enjoyed the film while watching it, I started to realize more and more as it went along just how much fun I was having. And after it ended, and I started turning it over in my mind, I started to enjoy the movie even more. One of the really smart ways The Children operates is by accurately depicting the chaos of having four kids running around a home - for the first fifteen minutes or so, I honestly had no clue how many there were, because the film shows how the sheer energy and craziness of kids running around can make four children seem like twice as many. I applaud the director for obviously knowing his way around a kid-friendly homestead - it’s a hectic environment. Another great move is to pull the classic horror trick of having the ostensible grown-ups in the situation be so naive and blind to the evil all around them, that you get so frustrated when they turn on each other, it makes you start to choose and root for who the next victim should be. Oh, you moron, you think: how dare you blame that mother? I hope you die next - and at your OWN children’s hands. I found myself thinking this on more than one occasion; it’s maybe not the most subtle movie a film like this can pull, but when done well (and it is), man, oh man - the sheer SATISFACTION that arises from having things rather gruesomely resolved, it’s…well… any horror fan worth their salt knows EXACTLY the feeling I’m talking about.
Oh, but I haven’t even gotten to the ending. Oh, sweet Jesus, the ending. If you’re going to watch this movie, you may want to put down the internet now. Just pack it in, maybe go pick up one of those newfangled magazines I’ve heard so much about. They use genuine PAPER! Okay, spoiler alert over with: Hoooo boy, this ending, you guys. It DELIVERS THE GOODS. Like, more so than I’ve seen in quite some time. It all starts when Casey finally makes her Mom realize that all is not right with the children. How does she do this? Well, Elaine’s autistic son Paulie has already tricked Elaine into falling and breaking her leg so bad that the bone is jutting out. Yet, Elaine’s still convinced it’s her fault, not Paulie’s. That is, until Paulie picks up a knife and gets ready to bring it down into Casey’s throat. Finaly, Elaine snaps to it, yanks Paulie backwards, and BOOM! - he goes down, hard, onto a sharp piece of glass jutting straight up and into his neck. That’s right - little Paulie reverse-eats a six-inch glass shard. And, honestly, when it happens, all you can think is, "Fuck Yeah!!!!" ’Cuz let’s call a spade a spade: little Paulie was a real dick.
But, of course, the other “grown-ups” don’t believe them, instead buying the children’s argument that it’s really Casey out to hurt everyone. So they, like the dimwitted souls they are, lock Casey in the upstairs bedroom. Then they promptly die. So the showdown between Casey, her mom, and the two evil children left in the house plays out spectacularly. Some knife blades get utilized. Some doors get broken down. And believe me when I tell you that when Casey grabs nine-year-old Nicky and slams his evil little head down into a sharp wooden spike, it is so awesome that it’s all you can do to keep from standing up and applauding. (Incidentally, if you’re watching this at home, there’s no reason NOT to do just that. I stood up, gave the film the ol’ slow-clap, said “Bravo!” and cheered. I may have saluted the flag, I’m not sure.)
The denouement is equally fun and kid-killy, and it ends on a lovely, classic horror-film note of ambiguity about the future. The Children, in short, is a great deal of fun to watch. Definitely amongst the most entertaining times I’ve had during any of the 30 Days horror films. So take my word for it, check it out, and then we can have some fun talking about which method of evil-child-disposal we most prefer.
* There is exactly one exception to this that I’ve ever seen, but again, it’s an arguable case. It comes from the fairly dreadful (though not as bad as you may have been led to believe) Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem, or AVP 2. In the first five minutes of that one, a kid who was attacked by a face-hugger wakes up in the forest feeling hungry, and thirty seconds later one of the little buggers pops out of his chest, killing him. It is the one interesting thing about the movie, and really, what an odd title to maybe duck this universal rule, no? (Though again, arguably a teen.)