The Children is the second British horror movie this year using the previously untapped fear potential of the under sixteens. But whilst Eden Lake put its Kate Ashfield-a-like heroine in a ripped-from-the-fever-dream-of-the-Daily-Mail battle with delinquent hoodies, The Children skews a little younger. And whilst it is true that small children have the ability to be remarkably creepy (see Poltergeist, The Shining, Look Who’s Talking) it is less clear if they can be actually menacing. The Children has a good stab at turning its little horrors into actual horrors, but has to rely on a little bit too much coincidence and adult irrationality in the process.

The scenario is a New Years Eve party in a winter cottage. The unseasonal half inch snow cover gives the film its excuse for no police involvement. While it is true that in the UK we cannot deal with even the smallest amount of snow, this looks pathetic and was probably a dud continuity decisions. Anyway, two related middle class couples (one a bunch of country hippies, the other identified as from Hackney) bring their kids for the party, plus one surly teenager – marked out as the final girl if ever there was one. The kids feel sick, puke, and start to turn creepy and latterly murderous. The adults rationalise badly, slap themselves on the back for not getting MMR jabs* and slowly succumb to the violent toddlers. Except actually they don’t, because from a confrontation point of view a pint sized slasher is too easy to bat away. And so when the film gets down to the killing it is not sure how to do it, leaving it to child led accidents in most incidents (a very dodgy climbing frame death). This is probably because the film wants the kids “illness” to not turn them into evil zombies, but subtly change their motivations. So they can cry on a parents shoulder whilst participating in cold blooded murder by colour pencil.

The Children should be a terrific picture, and certainly has some great ideas, but it does end up spending too much time with its lead not comprehending what is going on. Indeed three quarters of the way through the film the viewpoint character seems to shift, from the emo-kid to her mother (this films Kate-Ashfield-a-like) who then gets to do the best kid killing the film can offer. Nevertheless the film ends in a much stronger position than its flagging final third, with two predictable, but well earned twist endings which gather together and army of evil children and perhaps a new conscript. At the same time I am not sure how this film would play to people with actual small children, I would be interested to find out. Certainly I can understand the “I can’t kill my kid even if it is trying to murder me” impulse responsible for many of the dumb decisions of the characters in this film. That said, the actual solution – picking the five year old up and locking them in a room – never seems to occur to them and that is a problem.

*The film is notably pro-science. Not only does it ridicule the MMR dodging parents, but the virus that infects the children has something which resembles the contagion period of real viruses, ie – kids take a day or so before it takes effect.