As much as I wanted to love Thomas Shankland’s horror film “The Children,” it’s yet another genre entry that’s all build and no bang. In fact the first hour of the whole film is nothing but build-up and off screen chaos, and there’s almost no pay off to anything that occurs. Whenever Shankland has a chance to blast the audience with carnage and havoc, it’s all so abruptly ended. You assume a movie about a mysterious chemical that turns children in to rotten maniacs merciless in their pursuit to murder adults would be straight forward and frantic. In reality it’s very slow, and there’s nothing straight forward about anything here.
Everything in the film is left ambiguous for the audience to interpret. Literally everything in the film is never given an up front answer or indication of what occurred here. It even ends on a final scene so ambiguous that it’s meant to be horrifying but it’s actually incredibly irritating. There’s no resolution, no closure, and no hinting that the writers knew how to handle the ideas presented here. Three families head out to a getaway for the holidays with their children to relax, but that’s cut short when their children begin getting dangerously ill and begin to act mysteriously. This would all suit us well for a wonderful horror thriller, but there’s just so much nothing to it, that the set up has no relevance to the narrative at all. The writer suggests that the mysterious ooze that appears is supernatural.
Then hints it’s biological when the parents begin talking randomly about foreign diseases. And then the writer hints the ooze is a red herring and the children are really totting because of the apparent tension in the family involving sexual tension between a friend’s husband and teenage protagonist Casey, as well as Casey’s refusal to accept her new stepfather. The children then go through a series of mood changes that make zero sense, and they become incredibly violent, leading in to off screen deaths that are suggested more than they are shown. The gore is necessary to depict how violent the kids have become and we never see much of that.
There’s an odd focus on character Casey’s bitterness over her mother’s attempts to abort her before she was born which she survived. So we get to see a lot of scenes where the children open the bellies of their victims, bash on baby dolls, and even attempt to cut open Casey’s mother in the final scenes. So are the kids’ punishments on these adults for abortion? There’s also lot of hinted pedophilia between Casey and her aunt’s husband, as well as Casey’s stepfather and her baby sister. “The Children” dabbles in the conflict of murdering a child in self-defense, but they aren’t nearly as explored and fleshed out as they are in “Who Can Kill a Child?” Meanwhile a lot of the finale is rushed and offers nothing for the audience to take away.
So is the ooze everywhere? Where did it come from? Does it just affect the children? Are they zombies, maniacs, or rabid? Why just target adults? How far back did it originate? Did Casey become infected in the final scenes? If so, does the ooze infect the young and not specifically children? Or is it infecting her because on some philosophical level she’s still a child because she was a failed abortion? “The Children” is a dud of a horror film and rather sneaky pro-life propaganda, which is a shame because it plants seeds for a great horror entry. In the realm of killer kids movies, I’ve seen so much better.