Fantastic Fest Review: Tom Shankland's The Children
by Alex Billington
September 28, 2009
Another surprise delight I discovered at Fantastic Fest is Tom Shankland's The Children, a horror-thriller from England. I've been waiting to find out what this year's Let the Right One In would be (since that I saw that film at Fantastic Fest last year). While this film isn't exactly that incredible, it's one of my favorites of the festival (so far) along with Mandrill. The Children is, in short, about a group of children who go crazy and start killing their parents. Shankland takes everything to the next level, though, even though he doesn't need to, from the great performances young and old to the thrilling story to the beautiful cinematography.
Two families meet up at a country estate to celebrate the winter holidays together. One of the families has two young kids, the other has three, one of which is a teenage daughter, the other two as young as the others. Everything seems to be going great until the kids slowly start to go crazy, screaming and suddenly running off at lunch. The families split up in attempt to calm everyone down and things take a turn for the worse with a sledding "accident" gone very wrong. It all begins to spin out of control from there, but without losing its vision and its direction, thankfully. Shankland was able to keep it tense even with all the madness.
Honestly, it's hard for me to explain why I loved this so much, but I'll try. I think because it was just such a visceral experience for me that I walked out loving it. It moves very swiftly (it's only 84 minutes long) and doesn't introduce any other outside elements or characters that aren't necessary. It has some problems with a few small loose ends (what exactly happened to the cat?), but overall I just got a good thrill out of watching it. Not many movies really make me nervous, but this one did (so did Paranormal Activity when I saw it a few weeks ago). It just felt like a polished and very well put together British horror/thriller all around.
The Children is not an outright horror film with guts and gore. Shankland chooses to cut back a bit on the all-out gore, but it's there, and there are quite a few deaths. I would call it more of a thriller than anything that is worth checking out if you're at all intrigued by the concept or by freaky killer kids (and who isn't?).
Fantastic Fest Rating: 8.5 out of 10