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Children, The

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // October 6, 2009 // Region 0
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 4, 2009 | E-mail the Author
It starts with a spatter of vomit in the snow.

A cute little six year old like Paulie gets the usual sympathetic hugs and all, but it's quickly forgotten. He's a kid, after all, and aren't they always sick? Besides, it's Christmastime: the rest of the hypercaffeinated tykes are bursting at the seams with excitement, the adults are too busy pretending to tolerate one another, and the kid's sneering sixteen year old sister Casey (Hannah Tointon) is
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just looking for an excuse to sneak away. Before too long, the rest of the children start behaving kind of strangely, but even then, kids are moody creatures who are kind of prone to playing it up. More smiles, more hugs, and then it's back to scoffing at get-rich-quick schemes, a trendy fascination with Chinese culture, and half-thought-out plans for home schooling. No one pays much notice until Uncle Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield) winds up with his head split open, face down in a pile of snow blanketed in blood.

The kneejerk reaction is to look at children this young as angelic, pure, and innocent, and there's someting inherently disturbing about seeing a four-year-old with sprays of blood across her face, giggling as a glint of light beams off the knife she's holding. Most every horror movie boils down to kill-or-be-killed in its final moments, but the impossible choice between facing certain death or butchering a child...your own flesh and blood...? That is the primal conflict that drives The Children.

The concept of killer kids has been milked over and over again over the years; hell, there's even a horror flick from thirty years back by the same exact name about a schoolbus of children that fall ill and begin slaughtering everyone in sight. Too frequently those sorts of movies settle for cheap shock value: empty, meaningless films lazily propping themselves up on the disturbing concept of murderous kids. The Children is hardly one of those movies, owing more to atmospheric, character-oriented horror like The Descent rather than just another paint-by-numbers Children of the Corn knockoff.

The Children is a slow burn throughout its first half-hour as it introduces these characters. They aren't a blissfully happy family or hopelessly dysfunctional. The adults are a bit smug and self-absorbed, and Casey is a teenager hiding her wounds behind a gruff, not altogether convincing façade; we're not talking about the Cleavers, no, but they all come across as real people. Even the children are entirely believable. These aren't
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cloying, adorably precious little tykes: they're moody, tempermental, and kind of hard to get a fix on that it's easy to see why when they start to be consumed by whatever it is that drives them to kill, it's not altogether obvious at first. Writer/director Tom Shankland takes care to ensure that these are people, not just one-note cardboard cutouts impatiently waiting to have their intestines spill out onto the snow. Even before any blood is slathered across the screen, The Children always feels as if something ominous is looming just off on the horizon, and Shankland builds on that suspense -- the intense anticipation -- before unleashing its violent, visceral release.

The Children is unnervingly intense because it's so atmospheric. This is a movie with very few jump scares, and it doesn't hide behind the shadow of night or frantic quick-cutting. Its characters behave entirely believably from start to finish, never once relying on stupid people doing stupid things to keep nudging the story along, and the fact that their personalities are so fleshed out makes it that much more unsettling to see them in harm's way. I love the fact that the kids still retain somewhat of a childlike quality. As cold and calculating as they are in ensnaring their prey, the way they giggle as they prepare to torture...the way they try to work some kind of toy into the slaughter...their mortal terror when they're pitted against death's exceptionally effective. Even as the body count tallies up more and more, it's intriguing to see how the adults still refuse to accept the situation, hellbent on pointing the blame at someone...anyone...else.

Tom Shankland's direction favors long, hesitant approaches by his cast in dead silence, wringing out an unbearable amount of tension as certain death looms near. The camera will frequently linger on an object -- a doggie door or a garden fork, for instance -- giving the audience a hint at what's to come while its characters remain unaware, and this heightens the intensity that much more. Even for a seasoned gorehound like myself, every single one of these scenes disturbed me, so agonizingly tense that I had to fight the urge to pause the movie and give myself a chance to simmer down. Shankland builds a marvelous sense of dread throughout every frame of the film, really, and he accomplishes this through strong storytelling, artful compositions, and masterful direction. This is such an exceptionally well-crafted horror film, and even with its more atmospheric, psychologically disturbing approach, this British import still manages to deliver no shortage of visceral, gruesome kills. The movie also doesn't shy away from the children themselves catching the worst of it.

The Children melds together the ominous atmosphere that defined horror throughout the 1970s with the blood-spattered effects from the decade that followed. Intelligent, artful, agonizingly intense, and profoundly disturbing, The Children is among the most exceptional horror movies to carve a bloody path to Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.

The Children is such a striking film visually -- a very deliberate use of empty space...pairing the colorful clothing of the children against a stark, frigid backdrop -- and it translates to Blu-ray wonderfully. Though contrast tends to be somewhat flat, this complements the bleak imagery and stylized palette exceptionally well, and the overall sense of clarity and detail remains reasonably strong throughout. The 1.85:1 image isn't as immaculately detailed as usual for a newly-minted release on Blu-ray, no, but it's certainly a step up over anything DVD could hope to produce, and the crisply-rendered grain would seem to suggest that this dates back to the original photography in the first place. It's a strong effort just the same, though.

The Children is lightly letterboxed to preserve its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the video on this single-layer Blu-ray disc has been encoded with AVC.

The Children draws so much of its strength from its exceptional sound design: the children slowly encircling their prey, unnervingly long stretches of dead silence shattered by the crack of a branch in the woods or the creaking of a half-open door, faint metallic clinking off in the distance as if someone or something had just brushed by... Its DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is so clear and so immersive that it heightens the intensity of the film that much more. This aggressive track takes full advantage of each of the six channels at its fingertips, and even though The Children isn't the sort of film to lean on colossal stings in the score as a crutch, its low-end can pack a devastating impact when unleashed, particularly the relentless pounding against a barricaded door. From Stephen Hilton's ominous, understated score to its unsettlingly strong sense of immersion, this is an extremely effective soundtrack, and its presentation on Blu-ray is flawless.

This Blu-ray disc doesn't feature any dubs or alternate soundtracks, although subtitles in English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish have been included.

  • Making of
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    The Children
    (20 min.; SD): This twenty minute featurette plays more like a guided tour through a few key sequences rather than a standard-issue behind-the-scenes piece, and it's better for it. "Making of..." shows off some of the splatter and delves at length into four of the film's most memorable scenes, including what might be the first stalk-and-slash ever staged in a 2'x3' greenhouse.

  • Paul Hyett Talks Prosthetics (5 min.; SD): The Children's special effects make-up designer tears through the shattered bones, stabbings, skewerings, and geysers of blood behind the film's most intensely visceral moments.

  • Working with the Children (5 min.; SD): After introducing each of the young actors playing these murderous moppets, "Working with the Children" touches on how this cast was assembled, preparing the kids for such a gruesome and demanding shoot, and how director Tom Shankland fielded their direction.

  • Shooting On Location (4 min.; SD): This featurette speaks briefly with the Connells, the family that opened the doors of their startlingly beautiful estate for this blood-spattered production. Tom Shankland also comments on the exceptional appeal of this house as well as the woods nearby that also play an integral role in the film.

  • Snow Set Design (7 min.; SD): Despite appearances to the contrary, The Children wasn't shot in the dead of winter, and this featurette explores how lush green gardens found themselves blanketed in wintry show.

  • Inside Tom Shankland's On Set Lair (8 min.; SD): The Children's director speaks at length about a series of photographs that served as inspiration for the film and are kept plastered throughout the cottage he stayed in during the shoot. Shankland also shows off a set of roughly sketched storyboards as well as a photo montage he used to better convey his vision of one defining sequence to the cast and crew.

  • Deleted Scenes (6 min.; SD): The Children features one entirely new scene -- a followup about the family's kittie that suddenly disappears as the children take ill -- as well as Jonah breaking down before making a particularly cruel decision and an extended version of the film's final shot.

  • Trailer and Ghost House Microvideos (5 min.; SD): This disc also serves up a minute and a half trailer for The Children along with a quick barrage of thrash metal set to clips of other Ghost House Underground releases.

  • Other Lionsgate Trailers (HD): Last up are high-def plugs for Saw V, The Midnight Meat Train, My Bloody Valentine 3D, The Haunting in Connecticut, and The Descent.

The Final Word
Between Grace, Trick 'r Treat, and now The Children, the past few weeks have been nothing short of exceptional for horror on Blu-ray. This atmospheric, unnervingly suspenseful, and startlingly gruesome film never settles for lazy scares or cheap shock value; it's a masterfully crafted horror film and easily ranks among the best the genre has delivered in years. Highly Recommended.
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