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Director: Tom Shankland
Cast: Eva Birthistle, Hannah Tointon, Stephen Campbell Moore, Rachel Shelley, Jeremy Sheffield
Plot: A family gets together for New Years, unaware that a malicious force is possessing the young children.

Creepy children have always been one of the cornerstones of horror. ‘Halloween’s’ most shocking scene was the traumatic opening. ‘Woman In Black’ was full of staring, pale-faced children. ‘Sinister’ tried really hard to make kids scary, but somehow failed. Children have a way of coming across as eerie without really meaning to. I have never actually seen a horror that used these terrifying children as their main premise though. It seems weird that ‘The Children’ is one of the only movie that has run with this idea.

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The exposition breezes by smoothly. Eva Birthistle’s Elaine, arrives at her sister’s house in the country for a New Years party, with new husband Jonah and her two daughters. Horrors can get away with a lot of exposition, because it is the one genre where we seemingly do not mind a slow build-up. As long as there is something mysterious brewing in the background, we are quite content to get to know the characters we will be seeing slaughtered over the next two hours. Most of the time this is wasted with some truly awful characters, as we have seen with ‘Scream’ and some of the sequels to ‘Paranormal Activity’, but not with ‘The Children’. Shankland uses this time to subtly drop exposition. We pick up the facts that Jonah isn’t liked by Elaine’s eldest, Casey, the uncle might have a little crush on Elaine’s daughter and the complete lack of mobile signal (clichéd I know, but we’ve got to answer those plot holes!)

The stand out star of this movie for me is Hannah Tointon, probably best known for Hollyoaks and playing Joe’s would-be first time in ‘The Inbetweeners’. She is given the role of moody teenager, but it never becomes annoying. In fact, when the murders start happening, she is the easiest character to side with. As we get to know her character, the teenager in me can kind of side with the fact that she wants to sneak away to a party, rather than being stuck with the family, and the whole ‘I’ve secretly got a tattoo’ line was played smoothly, so we didn’t end up rolling her eyes at the character. In a genre full of teenage girls you want to see slaughtered, Hannah probably portrays the easiest to get along with, helped by the fact that Shankland doesn’t let her fall completely to pieces when the horror kicks in, like some of the other characters.

Some might be dissuaded by the broad daylight setting (I have already said it hurt ‘The Wrong Turn’), but it works here. We are not spared any shadowy covering up of the brutal killings. The snow is also a perfect set-piece. When blood spills, it often seems a lot more grievous than it is, really getting the adrenaline pumping. Also, there is a nice touch, near the end of the film, when the snow begins falling again and covers up all traces of the crimes. It is a very Gothic story device and something that the horror buffs will love.

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As you watch this movie, it becomes very clear that there isn’t a massive budget at hand. Tom Shankland never seems handicapped by this though. For one, you have to be a good director when handling child actors – they do their best, but when you cast four year olds as your villain, don’t expect an outstanding performance. The scares are done really well, cleverer than your standard scary movie. Sometimes certain details are eerily never answered. The family cat obviously bought it, but we never see a body. Also, there are some fantastic close-ups that make you do a double take. Sometimes, it fools us into thinking a character has just been killed off and other times, when the characters do get murdered, we are tricked into thinking we saw more than we actually did. Shankland knows exactly what he is doing with this material.

Any downsides? Well, it is not the scariest movie you will ever watch. The jumps are good, but there is never a sense of pure terror – this is for lightweight horror fans. Also, the monsters are never explained. I don’t overly mind this, but it begins hinting at something much darker in the distance. Were they turned by Jonah’s abusive parenting techniques? Some disease? When we are never made privy to why the children begin turning into psychopaths, it becomes clear that the foreshadowing was merely a tool to kill time, rather than make this something greater. This could leave some viewers wanting more. Other than that, as long as you like your horrors – it does keep to the same conventions, which might dissuade outsiders to the genre – then this movie is pretty much a must-see.

Final verdict: A clever horror that always knows what it is doing. While not outright terrifying, it still boasts a creepy atmosphere and bloody kills.

Four stars

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