I love being surprised. One of my favourite things about film is that it can surprise any viewer, whether you think you’ve ‘seen it all before’ or watch a handful of movies per year – cinema has often pulled the rug from under our feet to reveal a rabbit hole not unlike the one that leads Alice to wonderland. I was treated to such a surprise last night when BBC1 broadcast a 2008 British horror film called ‘The Children’. Britain has had a long history in the business of frightening theatre audiences, helming classics from The Wickerman all the way up to a recent surge (Kill List, Attack the Block, Shaun of the Dead and The Descent being the best) so it’s hardly fair for any horror fan to react with indifference to the phrase ‘British horror’, because quite frankly we do it the fucking best. And this is why I was delighted to have watched The Children, as a sort of reassurance that British filmmakers are always producing great films.
Two middle class families decide to spend the festive season together in the country, taking all five of their children along with them. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing, it seems, for the first part of the film. Writer-director Tom Shankland does something so rare in the genre nowadays – he lets the tension build, establishes the characters and holds back from cheap ‘GOTCHA!’ scares opting instead for the odd eye glance or peculiar behaviour from the children. It is around the 30 minute mark that Shankland turns the switch and drives the film into a wholly different direction. The children begin acting violently towards their parents who’re dismissive of their dangerous actions as accidental and see their kids as resentful. Shankland works with his editor to create astonishing set pieces. He makes us think that we’ve seen more than we think through bursts of cuts between the characters, but the film is perhaps at it’s most captivating during the slower scenes. Shankland’s camera lingers on a tent as a mother gradually approaches it – no music, just the light crunch of snow beneath her feet and the faint sound of a child inside. He holds this shot for longer than is physically possible and, once inside, surprises us once again. In hollywood, Jason or Freddy would’ve stormed out of the tent and slashed everyone to pieces. Make no mistake, The Children is not for the faint-hearted either. A generous dose of gore, blood and guts gives the film a visceral effect, but it is a story containing gruesome violence not the other way around. The Children may not be the most original piece of filmmaking, but it steals from the best reminiscing strongly of The Omen, The Shining, The Thing, Zombi 2, The Exorcist and Village of the Damned – incidentally some of the greatest horror films of western cinema. It’s supported by some spot on performances from both the kids and adults, but really I can’t stop thinking about Shankland’s solid control over every moment. This is a man who knows exactly what scares us and how to get it on screen, The Children is, for me at least, a brilliant horror film that must not be overlooked.
Check out the rather misrepresentative trailer:
You can watch The Children for free here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01dljwq/The_Children/