The natural stress that accompanies the Christmas season does cause people to act a little more strange than usual. Whether our hearts are growing three times in size or our inner Scrooge manifests, it’s that special time of the year where the atmosphere around takes over. Distant relatives and friends from near and far make their way to our doorways, filling our joyful spaces with cherished memories. I happen to be one of those odd people who actually enjoys spending time with my family, often passing up time with friends to spend more time with the people I see almost daily.
However, there is something about the holiday season that makes quality time with your kin a little more difficult than usual. Unfortunately for the families of Tom Shankland’s The Children (2008), intimacy and close quarters prove to be more deadly than any typical forced gathering we can imagine.
Simple Seasonal Story
The 2008 British horror, directed and written by Shankland, centers on sisters Elaine, played by Eva Birthistle (Brooklyn), and Chloe, played by Rachel Shelley (Once Upon a Time), who bring their young families together for a fun holiday vacation in the mountains between Christmas and the new year. Elaine’s eldest daughter, Casey, played by Hannah Tointon (Penny Dreadful), has a rebellious chip on her shoulder, causing the chromosomal baggage to pile into the foyer before it’s even unloaded from the car.
The typical holiday activities ensue, but quickly escalate into horrendous mayhem as Elaine and Chloe’s young children begin to exhibit signs of sickness. As their immune systems transform, relationships turn between the adult sisters and their husbands, played by Jeremy Sheffield (Creep) and Stephen Campbell Moore (Season of the Witch) as well as with their children, respectively and relatively. Jealousies flare, resentment emerges, and tempers run short as the boundaries of the holidays are tested relentlessly.
As their New Year holiday dinner begins, the children’s jabbing, whining, and screaming mounts to more than just the common cold. When the climax of The Children begins to peak, it’s evident that the illness contaminating the innocent bodies of these harmless kids is more than just a viral disease, but an infectious bloodlust they will stop at nothing, and I mean nothing, to satisfy. Intensely taboo scenarios pull viewers in, but the sheer horror of an unconventional massacre proudly holds them to the film’s surprising end.
ENJOYING THIS POST?
Nightmare on Film Street is an independent outlet. All of our articles are FREE to read and enjoy, without limits. If you’re enjoying this article, consider joining our fiend club on Patreon for only a couple-a bucks a month!
Due in large part to the screenplay of The Children, written by Paul Andrew Williams (Train to Kandy), the family get-together has a very real dynamic and feel to it. The excitement among the couples and the children, as well as the irritation wreaking from Casey, are all gravely familiar experiences we can easily identify with as we begin to buckle down on holiday visits of our own. The gleeful adult jokes and natural conversation is cut with the traditional chaos of energetic young ones running amok, complete with the sidled hint of dread just below the pure surface of the first snowfall. The situations that these very average characters find themselves in are so ferocious that The Children will have you sitting on the edge of your seat before you reach the midpoint. Moments of shock and gasping thoughts of “Did that just happen?” will leave you feeling as isolated from a reaction as the families are from outside contact.
Are you looking to enjoy something that’s not completely saturated in Christmas debauchery? The music, the bright colors, the exuberant visuals and, sometimes, obnoxious characters of any holiday-based film can get old very quick. Holiday films tend to be a little stimulation overload and become played out over years and years of ritual viewings. The horror genre is no exception to the jarring tropes and imagery of yuletide makings as we are continuously subjected to a rehashing onslaught of evil Santa Clauses, maniacal snowmen, and even seasonal slashers each year. The Children is a fabulous alternative that has just the right amount of relevant spirit to set the presence of Christmas time, yet stands grounded in an ironically realistic environment plagued with truly horrifying circumstances.
The atrocities and violence taken out on both the adults and the children throughout this film is gratuitous, but in all the right ways. It effectively shows you enough to give you that gut-wrenching feeling without overworking the blood and practical effects. The Children’s cinematographer, Nanu Segal (An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn), executes each scene with care and precision as vicious acts of both mindless and overwhelmingly emotional battles for survival pepper the plot with carnage.
The use of bold colors like primary yellow, soft blues, and a spectrum of magenta against stark white throughout The Children breaks from the usual candy red and Kelly green, yet still manages to have that signature Christmas tone to it. The setup is perfectly authentic. Like the breath of fresh air we escape to take as our guests parade inside, The Children is a relieving break from the fake family scenes of cheap, dramatized Christmas stories.
“[The Children] initiates a slow build, but instantly takes a dark twisted turn that only climbs the icy ladder of depravity moving forward.”
What I love the most about The Children is the seemingly effortless way it initiates a slow build, but instantly takes a dark twisted turn that only climbs the icy ladder of depravity moving forward. Pacing is a superb strong point of the film, with dread carefully drizzled through the first act. With the expectation that a film of this caliber would fall flat, the second act only turns up the dial on mayhem while the third act and final acts punch it into high gear. The acting is exceptional, drawing moments of frustration and total heartbreak. Once the first act sinks its cruel prongs in, jubilant glee and triumphant joy is over for good.
Sure, The Children has a few hokey spots, including questionable outfit choices on Casey’s part (I was a rebellious teenage girl once too, but for the sake of practicality and warmth I really think she really needs a pair of pants), inappropriate flirting with her uncle (yep, that happens), and a terribly convenient sole spot of cell service. Like rambunctious kids, all of these little complications can be irksome, but do not detract from the film’s good parts. I love it, mini-skirt in the snow and all. It’s an interesting take on family dynamics apropos to upcoming New Year festivities giving viewers no rhyme or reason effectively. It’s difficult to balance shock value with purposeful reasoning, yet Shankland manages to achieve one without the other. You won’t spend time focusing on the why of this story, but will be more engrossed in the whoah of it.
Needless to say, The Children is a bright gold star stuck high up on the top of my holiday movie agenda. You can find it for free on Tubi or rent it on Amazon, Vudu, or Sling.
P.S. – If you’re looking for a double-header streaming event (sometimes it takes more than two hours away from the family to regain sanity), The Children pairs well with Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad starring Nic Cage (Mandy) and Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions). It does not, however, pair well with young viewers. Maybe stick to the animated, claymation classics if the young folk are around. You don’t want to give them any bad ideas. If you do have children, or may be around them during the holidays, you might want to buy them an extra gift or two… just in case.
What are you streaming to avoid your family members? What’s your holiday horror lineup? Does it include The Children? Let us know over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!