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Fantasia Review: In a Valley of Violence
It's almost Christmas, and an English family consisting of two couples and their collective five children are getting together for the holidays at an isolated estate. Unfortunately, a couple of the kids start to feel ill shortly after the family gets together. The parents assume it to be the flu, but things take a turn. The kids start to act less like hyperactive tykes, and more like batsh*t bloodthirsty killers.
Even though I'm not the biggest fan of kids in horror movies (or kids in movies in general), there are always those films that come along with a Linda Blair or Carrie Henn that wow me. Instead of being portrayed as the stereotypical kid in a horror movie (read: annoying and only existing to serve as a plot device), these select few do more than just scream hysterically and act helpless. Enter director/writer Tom Shankland's THE CHILDREN, a British ditty that's far removed from the lame 'killer kid' films like CHILDREN OF THE CORN, and more along the lines of the good ones like the original VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?
THE CHILDREN gets the necessities of character establishment out of the way in the first half hour, which thankfully isn't the monotonous task you'd think it'd be. Sure, the adults kind of fall into the clichéd 'self-absorbed and conceited parents' mold, and the teenager of the group puts on that surly attitude some teenagers get, but it's all believable. As for the kids themselves, they don't fit into the 'adorably cute' mold, nor do they fit into the 'annoying as sh*t and you want them to die horribly' mold. They fit somewhere in between. They act like *shock* real kids. This of course makes what comes after the temper tantrums in the film that much more disturbing.
Speaking of disturbing, one of the taboos amongst North American films has always been showing violence involving kids. As well, there's also the notion that kids are innocent and harmless. This is unfortunately not the case in real life for either one, and (don't take this the wrong way) fortunately, THE CHILDREN flips the bird to those notions. There's some genuinely brutal stuff being dished out by and to everyone in this film, kids included. What's even more sinister is the fact that the kids do that playful giggle as they torture the adults, which some people might think as unfathomable. Obviously, these same people never roasted ants with a magnifying glass as kids.
In addition to pushing the above constructed cultural aspect down the stairs, Shankland gives the the whole film an ominous tone. Whether it's the wintery backdrop reminiscent of THE SHINING, the playful but creepy music at the start of the film, or the lingering shots of silent, hesitating moments by protagonists, there's no shortage of tension. He also throws in a couple of those mindf*ck moments of offscreen violence, going with the tried and true method of having the audience dream up whatever they don't see. After all, nothing is more frightening than the power of one's imagination.
At the end of it all, THE CHILDREN plays with the question of whether you can kill your own child before they kill you, and delights in doing so. Moments of anguish brought on by the parents' decisions are palpable, regardless of whether you're a parent yourself. Add to that some undeniably creepy and brutal moments, and THE CHILDREN is one must-see film.
Video: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is certainly striking, even for DVD. The film is predominantly shot with a blue filter, making the whole experience feel cold, and contrasts the colourful clothes the kids wear quite nicely. Grain is present and detail isn't on par with Blu-Ray (obviously), but it's still wonderfully shot.
Audio: The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track is other part of the film's power. From the sounds of the children circling in on their victim, to the above-mentioned score by Stephen Hilton that accentuates the impending dread, the film is a feast for the ears.
First up is Making of The Children, which clocks in at 20 minutes. Rather than going through the entire filmmaking experience, the featurette goes over key sequences in detail, including all the gooey effects involved.
Paul Hyett Talks Prosthetics has the special effects make-up designer for the film go over my favorite aspect of horror movies. Whether it's shattered bones or blood geysers, it's always fun to see how these folks manage to pull off these things and fool us into seeing what they want us to see.
Working with the Children goes over the assembling of the terrorizing tykes for the film, as well as preparing them for the shoot (including boat rides with the adult actors and seeing Paul Hyett's work) and how Tom Shankland went about directing them. Everyone involved appears to love working with the kids, and the behind-the-scenes footage reinforces it.
Shooting On Location focuses on Cook Hill Priory, home to the Connell family and the primary location for the film. Tom Shankland also comments on the exceptional appeal of this Elizabethan house, as well as the woods nearby. All I can say is that I want a house like this!
Snow Set Design explores how the lush greenery of the set (the film wasn't shot in the dead of winter, after all) was transformed into a winter wonderland, thanks to the folks at Snowbusiness. This just made me appreciate the art direction of the film even more.
Inside Tom Shankland's On Set Lair involves the director talking about a series of photographs that served as the film's inspiration. Shankland also shows off a set of roughly sketched storyboards, as well as a photo montage he used to get his vision of one of the film's sequences across to the cast and crew.
Deleted Scenes Want to know what happened to the cat? That's here, along with a few other scenes that were trimmed from the film, including an extended version of the film's final shot.
Finishing up the disc are the film's trailer and Ghost House Microvideos, which has abbreviated clips of the other Ghost House Underground releases set to various thrash metal songs.
We also get proper trailers for various Ghost House Underground releases, as well as Break.com, for some reason.
Overall, while the majority of the extras are kind of pithy (only the 'Making of' breaks 10 minutes), they're still informative. It would've been nice to have had a commentary or a more in-depth documentary, though.
Probably one of the best films I've seen all year, THE CHILDREN goes for the ankles and works its way up from there. Superb tension, coupled with some great acting and brutal visuals make this one hard to not want to watch. Just make sure you keep a baseball bat handy if your kids get sick...