Thursday, July 9, 2009


As if the French weren’t bad enough, the holiday season gets yet another kick in the nuts in Tom Shankland’s shocking The Children.
And, as if to up the that’s-just-so-wrong ante, Shankland looks back to Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? (Who Can Kill a Child?) and casts the eponymous wee ones as the film’s antagonists.
It’s a recipe for a tense and disturbing cinematic experience that leaves many other so-called “horror films” wondering where they left their teeth.

Rebellious teen Casey (Hollyoaks’ Hannah Tointon) is hijacked by her mum Elaine (Eva Birthistle, soon to be seen in David Keating’s upcoming Hammer Film, The Wake Wood) and stepda Jonah (The History Boys’ Stephen Campbell Moore) for a holiday weekend in the snowbound country home of her aunt Chloe (The L Word’s Rachel Shelley).
But it isn’t long before—amidst the shrill clatter of squealing children (including Chloe’s own)—it becomes glaringly obvious that this is not going to be one of those regular, interchangeable holidays.
Something’s wrong with the children.
Very wrong.

The premise—from a story by Paul Andrew Williams, writer/director of London to Brighton and The Cottage—is simple enough, but it’s in Shankland’s helming where this film asserts itself as a nastily effective yarn for those who’ve always suspected that all kids are just little devils in disguise.
Not only does Shankland have a rather good cast here (including the four child performers; hats off to the children’s acting coach, Jane Karen), he also has Nanu Segal as DP, Tim Murrell as editor (masterfully deploying the lightning-quick cuts where they’re most potent), and Stephen Hilton on music.
United by Shankland’s vision, Segal, Murrell, Hilton, and Karen, help in very significant ways, to bring The Children to the unsettling heights it manages to reach, and they make it all seem so effortless.
Neat trick, that.

For the record, if you haven’t yet figured it out, The Children is quite simply not for those who love-love-love the holidays and/or children.
This film is not for you.
Everyone else, if you’re in the mood for some unflinching horror—not so much in the French school of disturbo shock-and-grue, but rather in the narrative’s subject matter—then The Children is a timely and provocative title that should really be on your to-watch list. It depicts quite chillingly, in the best kind of horror film milieu, the deep-seated fear all generations have, of forced obsolescence, of being cruelly replaced by one’s progeny.

It should also go without saying (though I’m saying it anyway) that this should not be seen by the young ‘uns.
It could give them ideas…

Parting shot: Of the three Segal-shot films I’ve seen thus far (the other two being Paddy Breathnach’s Shrooms and Oliver Blackburn’s Donkey Punch), The Children is most definitely the best.

Parting shot 2: Reviews of The Cottage, The History Boys, and Shrooms can be found in the Archive.

(The Children UK quad and images courtesy of

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