The Children (2008)

Starring: Hannah Tointon, Eva Birthistle, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jeremy Sheffield, Rachel Shelley

Directed by: Tom Shankland

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Hannah Tointon as Casey in The Children

If you're currently thinking about starting a family, watching The Children will very quickly make you change your mind – and that's before the offspring in question turn psycho and start slaughtering their parents. And if you were one of the many surveyed by Barnardo's who believed the youth of today have turned feral, you may very well be right…

When smug yummy mummy/superdad couples Elaine and Jonah and Chloe and Robbie get together for New Year with their spoilt, undisciplined, attention-seeking, bratty kids, the scene looks set for mucho liberal middle class one-upmanship ('We're teaching Miranda Chinese,' 'Well, we're home-schooling Nicky and Leah…') accompanied by excessive chardonnay swigging. But everything goes spectacularly pear-shaped when the children contract a mysterious virus that makes them, well, see red.

Raffiella Brooks as Leah in The Children

Next thing they know, their cosy weekend snowbound in what appears to be a stately home in the middle of 'the woods' turns into a nightmare, and it's not helped by the presence of cocky teenager Casey (Hollyoaks' Hannah Tointon), whose vacillation between adult posturing and childish petulance takes on a significance of life and death dimensions when there's a children's virus doing the rounds…

This low budget Brit horror flick from WAZ director Tom Shankland may seem to be rehashing old territory (The Omen, The Exorcist, et al) but there's much about The Children that is interesting, innovative and really quite creepy – and hey, it's always good to see smug marrieds getting their comeuppance. Although perhaps what's most effective about the film, however, is that you never actually see the children do anything. One minute they're standing there, all hollow-eyed and spooky, or slipping through the woods Don't Look Now style, the next there's an awful lot of blood.

The cause of the mystery virus is never specified, although hints about the MMR vaccine and traditional Chinese medicine are bandied about. Is this a satire on the ill-conceived whims of trendy, Guardian reading parents, who'd literally let their children stab their eyes out before they'd tell them off? I don't know, but it's certainly interesting to view the film through that cynical lens.

While US horror cinema seems stuck either trying to make sense of J-horror or excavating its own grisly back catalogue (Friday the 13th, anyone? Yawn…) it's nice to see the Brits coming up with something a bit different. Tense, bloody and really quite nasty, The Children is a tasty little anti-Christmas cracker perfect to add a bit of festive fear to the season of goodwill.

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