There's Something Wrong with the Children

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Creepy kids have been a staple of horror movies forever. Much of the time, they're presented in similar ways, or placed into similar stories. There's Something Wrong with the Children finds a fresh angle. Working from a script by T.J. Cimfel and David White, director Roxanne Benjamin (Body at Brighton Rock) uses the creepy kid concept to deliver jolts, but also to play on twin fears – having children, and having something bad happen to your children once you do have them.

Two couples take a vacation together, renting out cabins in the woods. Margaret (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gilford) have decided that parenthood won't be for them. Ellie (Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Carlos Santos) have kids, a boy named Spencer (David Mattle) and a girl named Lucy (Briella Guiza). They also have a strained marriage, which becomes apparent early on in the trip. While exploring, the group discovers a weird brick structure out in the middle of nowhere. Inside is a massive hole in the ground that goes down pretty deep. Spencer and Lucy seem inexplicably drawn to it, almost as if hypnotized.

Immediately after getting back, the kids start acting strangely. Ben is the only adult who notices it, in part because he follows them back out to the structure and watches them jump into the hole, only to inexplicably materialize at the cabins a short time later. He eventually tells Margaret, who refuses to believe him because, after all, she can see the children with her own eyes and they look fine. Nothing more should be said about the plot, although you can rest assured events get creepy very quickly.

An interesting about the structure of There's Something Wrong with the Children is that the POV changes. For a time, we see everything from Ben's perspective, as he tries to make sense of what he witnessed. Later, when all hell breaks loose, it switches to Margaret's perspective. Why the movie does that adds a layer of tension to the proceedings. Our understanding of their relationship evolves as a result. An earlier scene finds the two discussing their understanding that they wouldn't have kids, but there's an intimation that it's really more her preference than his. Seeing him worry about Spencer and Lucy while she blows the concerns off gets across the idea that Margaret may fear the responsibility that comes with parenthood.

Several disturbing things take place during the course of the story. Benjamin consistently cranks up the tension throughout, playing on the horrific idea of kids changing or having misfortune fall upon them. (As a parent, there were a couple moments where I felt my heart in my mouth.) She doesn't shy away from these times, guaranteeing that you'll be jolted on multiple occasions. The film also makes effective use of the color green to imply supernatural menace.

Strong performances from the entire cast make the drama come alive. Special notice must go to Mattle and Guiza, who do an above-average job of being convincingly eerie. It's a common pitfall in creepy kid movies to have young actors who aren't scary. They pull it off. There's Something Wrong with the Children has one or two predictable moments, like a scene where an unlucky cop shows up to investigate. The story also might have been enhanced by at least a minor indication of what's behind that hole's power. Those are, however, minor issues for a film that offers plenty of nervous suspense.

out of four

There's Something Wrong with the Children is unrated, but contains strong language, bloody violence, and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.