On the Sixth Day of Christmas: The Children Makes The Naughty List

Having children can be pretty scary sometimes. Contrary to horror movies, however, children themselves don’t make for very scary antagonists. No offence to fans of Children of the Corn, nostalgia is likely coloring your love of that middling 80s Stephen King adaptation. In most ‘killer kid’ horror movies, it’s not hard to imagine just putting the homicidal tyke in a time out or limiting their screentime. But their are a handful of killer kid movies that understand what makes junior psychopaths unnerving. Among that small sample, British horror movie The Children may be one of the best horror movies you haven’t seen.

Synopsis

Over the Christmas holidays, moody teen Casey finds herself carted off for a family get-together at her aunt’s isolated winter home. While she’s secretly planning to have a friend pick her up, however, her younger siblings and cousins complain about flu-like symptoms. Soon thereafter, all the younger children start behaving oddly. All the adults chalk it up to a virus that will pass soon. But when the children’s behaviour turns deadly, the surviving family members find themselves trapped miles from help.

The Children Finds Genuine Scares and Suspense in its Half-Sized Antagonists

A relatively unknown British filmmaker – Tom Shankland – wrote and directed The Children. North American audiences aren’t likely to recognize any of the British actors. And none of this matters because The Children is a perfectly disturbing – and near perfect – little horror movie. Slow-burn horror is tricky and more often than not leaves you underwhelmed. Here, Shankland wastes little time letting you know something isn’t right. These early warning signs are steadily ratcheted up until all hell breaks loose in a cleverly foreshadowed moment. All of this unfolds within a relatively tight time frame. From that point onward, Shankland keeps the momentum moving like a roller coaster with only brief moments of respite.

Slow-burn horror is tricky and more often than not leaves you underwhelmed.

Though kids aren’t really natural antagonists for horror movies – they are small, after all – this British thriller orchestrates some impressively suspenseful scenes. Smart editing and exploiting what’s arguably a natural feeling of authority most adults enjoy, The Children has several edge-of-your seat moments including the aforementioned triggering event that involves a deadly child’s sled. Another scene set on a set of stairs milks an agonizing amount of tension. By its conclusion, Shankland teases bigger implications while choosing to end things on an ambiguous note. It’s a well earned ending and one that reinforces that the unknown will always be scarier than clumsy exposition.

Someone’s Going on The Naughty List After Making This Movie

In general, horror movies avoid crossing a line when kids are involved. Yes, they’ll put them in peril. Still most of the worst things that can happen to people in horror tends to happen offscreen when children are involved. In addition to its meticulous development of suspense, The Children is one of the rare horror movies that shocks. While there isn’t necessarily much violence, the low-budget British thriller doesn’t shy away from bloody death scenes. And Shankland keeps the camera focused on what’s happening rather than jerk away. A doll’s head inserted into an adult’s gaping wound is just as creepy as it sound. That children are committing – and victims of – the violence heightens the shock.

… The Children is one of the rare horror movies that shocks.

None of the British faces should register with North American audiences. However, all the performances are pitch-perfect, particularly given the movie’s smaller budget. Each of the ‘parents’ in the movie captures the emotional turmoil one would expect from people who slowly realize their survival depends on killing their own children. These performances also serve to heighten the movie’s tension. No character behaves in an obviously stupid way. As the rebellious teen daughter, ‘Casey’, Hannah Tointon gives the thriller a character for whom the audiences can care. All the young actors play their parts consistently well.

The Children Deserves Cult Status Amongst Horror Fans

On one hand, it’s not hard to see why The Children didn’t gain immediate traction with moviegoers. Simply put, its graphic violence – committed against and by young children – would have disturbed most audiences. But for more hardcore horror fans, The Children is a nearly perfect little thriller. Tightly-paced, Shankland balances slow-burn with some brilliantly arranged suspense scenes. Most importantly, The Children understands that what we don’t know is usually more frightening than the known. A lot of horror movies love ambiguous endings – The Children earns its ending.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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