Kids are creepy. They don’t need to talk. They don’t even need to move. A quiet child standing on the top of a hill staring at nothing can be terrifying.
The Children knows this. Tom Shankland directs for sheer terror and succeeds in turning otherwise friendly, quiet children into monsters. Yes, this is a creature feature where the creatures are young children, apparently taken over by a rogue virus or bacteria, the origins of which are unknown.
These kids are the perfect monster, fully trusted by their parents during a Christmas party, unable to accept their own kin are maniacal killers. Young William Howes plays Paulie, the youngest in the film, but the most effective. It is a role he will look back on when he is old enough, and be stunned at the power behind his gaze.
Shankland’s direction helps as well. A particular shot becomes the highlight of the film, an overhead tracking shot following a pool of blood into the children’s play tent. They have stored the body of their victim inside, setting a trap for the adults in the process. The overhead view is calm, lacking music or any aid. It works because of the angle, the swirling movements both nauseating but a final moment of peace before everything breaks down.
The emotional toll on the character’s faces is remarkable. Casey (Hannah Tointon) is terrific. What initially seems like fodder for the eventual killing spree, that of a typical angry, rebellious teenager, makes a drastic turn. She grows up because of the circumstances, turning into an adult believably as she realizes the extent of what is happening.
The Children pushes an audience, forcing them to accept that a small child could be a killer, and even killed in a graphic way. The film doesn’t use the gore to shock, or at least that is not the end result. There is still an underlying sympathy despite the actions of the kids, knowing what they are doing is out of their control. Their deaths are tragic and horrifying, firmly cementing the film in its genre.
The Children is presented in an average AVC encode. The film is soft throughout, with lackluster detail and texture. The source suffers mild damage including some small specks, although so minimal most will not notice. Color is slightly subdued intentionally, but still appears natural, including flesh tones.
Black levels are only fair, failing to provide strong depth typical of the format. The fine film grain nicely layers over the image with no artifacting problems. This is undoubtedly clean and bright, although the distinct lack of high fidelity detail is a downer.
A DTS-HD mix is notable for a few moments. A creepy search through the woods leads to some broken branches in the rear channels. Kids surround the car during the finale, their movement nicely tracked. Before the virus/bacteria/other takes over, the young ones enjoy their Christmas presents happily, screaming throughout the house while the audio mix picks up on the echoes.
Some balancing problems are noted, including drastic increases in volume during certain action scenes. Dialogue is mixed a bit low.
Extras begin with a nearly 20-minute making-of, a fine little featurette covering most of the production. This is supplemented by shorter bonus pieces, including the aptly titled Working with the Children (5:04), Shooting on Location (3:41), and Snow Set Design (6:31). Note the audio is a bit rough during the latter bonus features and at times hard to hear.
Three deleted scenes are brief (including a slightly different ending), and a feature on Tom Shankland’s “office” during the shoot adds some insight into the creative process. Promos and trailers are left.