If Santa’s making a list, he won’t have to check it twice when it comes to these cheerful little tykes. Lionsgate brings back their popular Ghost House Underground series from last October. The series title likely borrows a bit from the old Grind House Theater that Quentin Tarantino brought back to fashion in the last couple of years. I assume it is intended to denote a horror film that skirts the art house scene. So, how does The Children fit into that mold?
It’s Christmas time in the English countryside. A family has gathered to share some eggnog and Christmas cheer. It’s the typical normal slightly dysfunctional family, and they’re staying in the nice little house in the woods with the children. They definitely drink a lot as the bottle count climbs higher than the bodies after a chainsaw party in Texas. There’s the uncle who wants to get into the pants of his 15 year old niece. Another guy is trying to con his relatives into joining him in a pyramid scheme to smuggle illegal Chinese medicines into the country. But at least the kids are a cheerful bunch. That is, until they appear to contract some kind of a disease that has them spitting up tons of creamy green mucus. Soon the children begin to exhibit aggressive behavior, and before you know it they’re slicin’ and dicin’ their way through the paper mulch snow.
The plot might be simple, but this film will sneak up on you right quick. The child actors did a marvelous job of it. They make the creepiest monsters I’ve seen out of a new film in quite some time now. And it’s not the violent antics at all that gives them this effect. It’s the way they are often posed. It’s the still shots that are the most haunting of all. A couple of them have the most evil stare I’ve seen since The Exorcist. Now I will have to warn you that there is tons of child violence both by and to here. If any of that is upsetting to you, then good. That’s exactly what they wanted to do. No, seriously. If you are averse to such images, you need to stay away from this one. The rest of you are in for a treat as The Children is in every way the best of the Ghost House films from Lionsgate.
The acting on this one was also a cut above the rest, pun intended. It helps that Rachel Shelley and Jeremy Sheffield have played a couple in several projects. If they don’t have it down by now, they never will. Hannah Tointon plays Chloe, the teen angst kid. It was a part originally written for Selma Blair, but eventually reconsidered for an unknown. She does a good job here, and needs to. It’s basically through Chloe’s eyes that we are experiencing much of the carnage. The kids played well around all of the gore. Credit an audition trick played by Shankland. Before he picked the final kids for the film, he took them on an unadulterated tour of the f/x house where there were tons of body parts and gory items laying around. It gave him a chance to see how much he could throw at these kids without being on the hook for years of therapy bills. It worked like a charm, and the kids moved about in this messy environment quite convincingly. Of course, after watching these unnerving children maybe it’s the audience that should be hitting him up for those therapy sessions.
The film actually began life as a screenplay by Paul Andrew Williams. The original idea had a comet named Miria be the cause of the children’s transformations. It was more of a kid zombie film then, with a lot of homage to George Romero and Sam Raimi. In fact the comet’s moniker was a deliberate anagram of Raimi’s name. When Tom Shankland got hold of the material, he immediately cut the zombie and comet aspects in favor of a more moral dilemma film. Do you kill your 5 year old son if he’s trying to kill your 16 year old daughter? is the kind of theme that Shankland was drawn toward, and it shows. Other changes included changing the setting from a birthday bash to the holiday season.
The Children is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/Mpeg-4 codec. There’s a lot of white here. The picture offers pretty good detail and sharpness. In fact, the picture is so sharp that the fake ice and snow is far more obvious than it was intended to be. Contrast is good, and black levels are fair.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers more than I expected. Certainly, there’s a lot of dialog, and that’s where most of the presentation resides. There are some nicely done ambient effects that are subtle but just enough to keep you on edge. There’s also something about the sound of crunching snow along with crunching bones.
Making Of The Children: (19:34) HD Plenty of off camera fun with the kids. The entire cast and crew participate and offer up a lot of light hearted anecdotes from the set. There is a daily production journal and too much of an awful country Christmas song.
Deleted Scenes: There are 3 and no play all. We already knew that Jinx, the cat, gets it. There is an alternate ending.
Working With The Children: (5:04) HD Cast brags about the kids, and then the kids get to ham it up for the camera.
Shooting On Location: (3:41) SD Meet the owners of the house where much of the film was shot.
Paul Hyett Talks Prosethics: (4:54) Bad jump edits and a really hard to understand Paul Hyett make this one a must skip.
Snow Set Design: (6:31) HD Ever watch someone do something they’re really proud of but feel all along it’s really pretty bad? That’s how you’ll feel here. These guys think they did a great job with those snow f/x. Ouch.
Inside Tom Shankland’s Set Lair: (8:21) HD Shankland gives us a tour of his office. Mostly it’s him describing pictures that hang on his wall. Get out much, Tom?
Clearly the best of this bunch; I wish we could have gotten more like this one. I understand that this one will not sit well with some of you. There are some taboos when it comes to children, certainly. I don’t think this film crosses over any serious lines at all. It’s creepy, violent, and bloody, but all in good fun. Just try and not get a chill when one of the little kids stands over a bleeding adult and says, “Bye-Bye, Mommy”.