“Something’s wrong with the kids” – Review: Creepy kids are fun
Roxanne Benjamin’s whimsically screwed up second feature deserves so much better than a January streaming release.
We’re less than a month into 2023, but there’s already an early front-runner for the most accurate movie title of the year. You can love or hate “There’s Something Wrong with the Children,” but no one can deny that’s the case definitely something is wrong with these children. (Though “A Sad Orgy Can Really Ruin Your Life” would have been an equally apt title.) A fitting addition to one of horror’s most reliable subgenres, the latest Blumhouse film about creepy kids manages to set itself apart from the competition Truly compelling adult drama and a delightful supernatural twist in the vein of the Duffer Brothers. And it’s infinitely more fun than any horror movie streaming straight in January gets its due.
Much like her directorial debut, Body at Brighton Rock, Roxanne Benjamin’s second feature feels like a throwback to an era when horror movies were more fun. While set in the present and certainly not a nostalgic picture, it has many stylistic elements that could have made it the highest-grossing horror film of 1986. A synth-heavy score that sounds like it was ripped straight from a John Carpenter film. A title card written in That Stephen King Book Cover Font. And an unabashed willingness to have crazy fun without slipping into that dreaded “confidence” that plagues so many scary movies these days.
Margaret (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gilford), as well as Ellie (Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Carlos Santos) have been friends since college, but adulthood has begun to pull the two couples in separate directions at an alarming rate. Ellie and Thomas have thrown themselves into raising their children, Lucy (Brielle Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattle). Margaret and Ben, on the other hand, are more than content living a jet-setting life without kids. Taking a vacation with friends’ kids every now and then is a fun novelty, but who wants to be in charge of someone else all the time?
When the four friends (and two kids) decide to head out of town for the woods for the weekend, everyone thinks it’s a win-win. College friends get to reunite, Margaret and Ben get to meet their annual spend time with kids quota, and everyone gets a breath of fresh air. But from the moment everyone arrives at their fancy Airbnb shacks, there’s something happening. Ellie and Thomas are both clearly nervous, and their constant puffing makes the holiday almost unbearable from the start.
Her friends inevitably ask what happened, and as it turns out…a really bad foursome happened. In a bid to revive their sex life, the two parents reveal they recently tried something similar to swinging with another couple. And it did Not go well. The evening’s aftermath caused a deeper rift in their marriage, and now they never seem to have enough free time to mend it. They eventually agree on a brilliant idea: Margaret and Ben can babysit the kids in their cabin for the night while Mom and Dad have some much-needed alone time.
The plan works perfectly at first, but hits a small snag when Ben wakes up to discover the children are completely gone. Of course, he finds them in the one place they’ve been specifically forbidden: the abandoned fortress in the forest with a spooky cliff in it that may or may not be a portal leading straight to hell. Ben only arrives shortly after they dive in and is unable to grab them before they fall to their deaths.
Ben and Michelle are understandably distraught. It’s always annoying when your best friend’s two children die, but it’s especially embarrassing when it happens during your 12-hour babysitting shift. But just minutes after watching the children jump to their inevitable deaths, he finds them alive and well in the cabin.
More specifically, he finds her alive in the cabin. But something has definitely changed about these kids, although Ben is the only one who notices. They acquire skills they never had before. They occasionally speak in tongues. And their new favorite game is committing acts of violence against everyone on the journey while conveniently blaming all the blame on Ben.
Since no one can leave the shacks, the film devolves into something akin to a crime-fighting board game as everyone tries to guess who is behind the mess the kids are making. No one believes Ben when he says these two adorable kids are plotting to ruin his life, and his case isn’t helped by the fact that he’s been prescribed mood stabilizers for his manic depression. No one wants to trust the insane, which inevitably turns the holiday into a bloody game of cat-and-mouse between four helpless adults and two super-powered immortal children who can fake their own deaths at will.
While it’s a premise we’ve seen many times before, “There’s Something Wrong with the Children” surpasses itself by getting all the little things right. The screenplay, written by TJ Cimfel and David White, is built like a swiss watch, making countless twists and turns without ever wasting a line. They wisely never tell us what this magical cliff in the woods actually does, allowing the mysterious plot device to take on “Pulp Fiction” briefcase status in our imaginations. On the rare occasions when the action pauses, it’s immediately rescued by a hard-hitting piece of music from The Gifted’s stellar score. And the colorist really deserves a raise, as the climax unfolds in an array of sunset colors that transform the adventures of these creepy kids into truly engrossing cinema.
It’s a real shame that There’s Something Wrong with the Children is being relegated to streaming because it’s very easy to see that the film was a smash hit in a different era. But who knows, maybe it will grow into a cult classic without the pressure of a theatrical release. Finally, if there’s a lesson to be learned from that ill-fated camping trip, it’s that responsibility isn’t what it’s meant to be.
Paramount will release “There’s Something Wrong with the Children” on Friday, January 17th on digital and VOD platforms. Streaming on MGM+ begins March 17.
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https://www.indiewire.com/2023/01/theres-something-wrong-with-the-children-review-1234800547/ “Something’s wrong with the kids” – Review: Creepy kids are fun