Amelia's Children

Amelia’s Children walks right up to the line of being great, then chickens out and retreats. The set-up is magnificent. Riley (Brigette Lundy-Paine) gifts boyfriend Ed (Carloto Cotta) with a DNA test. He was kidnapped as a baby and has grown up not knowing who his family is. It turns out he’s got a twin brother named Manuel (also played by Cotta) living in Portugal with their mother Amelia (Anabela Moreira). This is a horror movie, so you know there’s got to be something untoward going on. Indeed there is.

I need to sidestep the central issue a little bit to avoid spoilers. The movie finds Riley making a shocking discovery that Ed can’t or won’t acknowledge. What she learns is vile, as it should be given the desire of writer/director Gabriel Abrantes to make a chiller. At this point, Amelia’s Children has everything in the world going for it. All it has to do is put this terrible, awful thing front and center, then let Riley and Ed try to escape it. There is a profoundly unsettling quality to the twist that prepares us to become rattled.

Rather than taking full advantage of that twist, the movie gets bogged down in silliness. There are two weirdly out of place dance sequences. Ed begins having garden variety hallucinations. Another key character is introduced and has a fair amount of time wasted on them, despite having minimal importance to the actual plot. Traditional jump scares are utilized when delving into the secret Manuel and Amelia share would be far more frightening.

Why does Abrantes go in the complete wrong direction? One can only assume he was afraid the central concept of his film would be in bad taste if he lingered on it. Well, it’s a horror flick, so bad taste gets a little leeway. Plenty of movies in the genre dip their toes into bad taste to give audiences a jolt. mother! has a scene where a deceased newborn is eaten by a rabid crowd. The Human Centipede features characters who get their mouths sewn to somebody else’s anus. Imagining such bad taste scenarios is what makes those pictures and others like them unnerving. Amelia’s Children falls short of the mark.

That’s a shame, because Lundy-Paine gives a very good performance, and Cotta gives two. (Casting the forty-something Moreira as an elderly woman and burying her under latex to make her look like the recipient of the world’s worst plastic surgery was a bungle.) Atmospheric cinematography nicely sets the stage, too. The raw materials are here for a first-rate shocker. Amelia’s Children asks us to conceive of a heinous act. Once we do, it spends far too much time on other stuff that’s significantly less fright-inducing. Major mistake for a horror movie.

out of four

Amelia's Children is unrated but contains bloody violence and strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan