The horror movie usually comes in one of two possible and likely forms. The first blend is the thriller-orientated horror, splashed with lots of loud noises, running around and screaming teenagers. The second -and much more welcome to anyone with half a brain- of the two is the more dramatic kind. This variant is ironically the less frequent, but it too often shows audiences what a real scary movie can do. The Children then is surprisingly something of an oddity in its design and structure in regards to these two common styles. Sandwiched between two very strong acts of characterisation and tense atmospherics, the movie takes a massive dive during its middle act which resorts to the same old clichés that make the genre so unbearable to most. It's also the classic example of a director's talent being wasted on a script that is far below his capabilities, and yet without such an important figure the movie would have fell flat on its face. So while it staggers through the finish line with a limp, The Children is nevertheless a good example of horror done adequately, but nowhere near perfectly.
Telling the story of a New Years family get together out in a secluded part of the wilderness, The Children is a foreboding change of focus for the genre in that the movie's antagonists are around three foot tall and cry for their mommy. Of course, the premise is undoubtedly hammy on paper; the idea of these children turning sour and attempting to kill their parents is something easily brushed off the shoulder, yet director Tom Shankland does well in convincing us otherwise. Opening the feature with a perfectly paced piece of family drama and characterisation, Shankland introduces us to our characters that we instinctively know at least one of is going to get whacked off. This in turn makes the movie's rather predictable middle act a little more sustainable thanks to the domestic overtone to all the violence and horror, and the result is more likely to have you wince rather than groan. Yet lumbered with such a plodding and tiresome body, The Children too often focuses away from the elements that make it engaging in the first place; neglected to having characters run around alone looking for things, ideas wear thin and the plot disintegrates along with the numerous corpses replacing such characters.
One thing that really is quite astounding about the movie however lies in the performances, not just in the adults, but of the children themselves. Very rarely is it the case (and primarily so in this genre) that children performers are able to fill their roles without a sense of awkwardness to their presence that too often draws attention to the director's commands. Shankland here makes himself invisible, and manages to get some convincing work out of his young thespians as a result. Sure enough, the script makes sure that this isn't anything new for anyone involved; characters are rudimentary, but the performers do well with what they are given under the direction of Shankland to the point where the movie's horror is accentuated through the character rather than their grief. Combined with the erratic and often disorientating score penned by Stephen Hilton and the derivative but effective photography of Nanu Segal, The Children makes for a convincingly tense movie that makes up for its lacking script with fine aesthetics and implementation.
As a horror movie, The Children does well, specifically during its opening and closing acts; establishing characters that feel like more than maniac fodder whilst avoiding bringing too much focus on the somewhat shaky premise, and instead shifting towards the atmosphere involved, and the character's reactions to this. As a result, Shankland's movie definitely feels more like a mature and intelligent example of the genre, but is too often undermined by the formulated and mundane middle act that wields a bloodied knife. So while there is something to be appreciated by most audiences who may or may not be attracted to the genre, the restrictive and polarising nature of the clashing styles hurts the movie's integrity and ability to fully satisfy either crowd. Some will find things to enjoy within the excessive violence and cheesy plot, whilst others will gravitate more towards the movie's thick atmosphere, but it's hard to see anyone loving the whole, rather than its greater parts. A fair effort from Shankland, but as much good as he does with his cumbersome script, it is that which is his ultimate undoing here.
6/10 - A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
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