starring Alisha Wainwright, Zach Gilford, Amanda Crew, Carlo Santos
written by T.J. Cimfel & Dave White
directed by Roxanne Benjamin
by Walter Chaw Roxanne Benjamin's There's Something Wrong with the Children is a tired retread in the folk-horror category of evil children that doesn't break any new ground and certainly doesn't tread any old ground with anything resembling energy or invention. It's just lugubriously competent, cozy in the way of a broken-in boot or a well-loved terrycloth robe--an "I'll be right back, you don't need to pause it" movie. Indeed, one doesn't need to pause it. For what it's worth, the best evil-kid movie is probably Narciso Ibáñez Serrador's Who Can Kill a Child?, although my favourite is the repugnant, deeply wrong 1981 Lew Lehman freakout The Pit. In that one, unhinged 10-year-old creeper Jamie (Sammy Snyders) discovers a pit in the middle of the forest behind his house that's swarming with carnivorous troglodytes he thinks are communicating with him through his teddy bear. Between feeding bullies and football players to the pit, Jamie spends his time making passes at his teen cheesecake babysitter and peeping on her while she's in the shower. Yes, that movie has it all. Alas, There's Something Wrong with the Children is aggressively forgettable, even freed of comparisons to films it's so obviously aping: a pair of evil kids, check; a pit in the forest full of evil? Check. Parents too wrapped up in their bougie bullshit to notice their offspring are breaking supernatural bad? Check. You've seen it. We've all seen it. Better versions.
The evil kids belong to Thomas (Carlos Santos) and Ellie (Amanda Crew), a couple on the rocks ever since Ellie jumped into a foursome that only she enjoyed. They go on a glamping trip with their buddies, Ben (Zach Gilford) and Margaret (Alisha Wainwright), renting out a pair of cabins so they can hang out and drink wine and open beer bottles without an opener. On a hike, the sextet (add kids Spencer (David Mattle) and Lucy (Brielle Guiza)) come upon some ruins and, yes, a pit. What's in the pit? A thing. A The Keep kind of thing? No, more like a mass of sentient insects or some shit you only see as silhouettes and hear as foley. It promptly possesses Spencer and Lucy because it wants them to throw the bodies of their parents into the pit, I guess. Not-Spencer and not-Lucy gaslight vulnerable, recovering trainwreck Ben with gambits like Lucy raising a firepit poker to stab Ellie in the back and then, when Ben exclaims in horror, pretending to sweep the patio with the poker instead. Clever! Or cruel, given how mental illness is portrayed in this film as a burden to overcome on behalf of your loved ones. You decide! Spencer shows Ben an empty pill bottle while Lucy pours a beer for her dad, which Ben interprets as them having spiked the beer somehow, even though he's watched the process of pouring the beverage from start to finish. Maybe Ben's gaslighting himself, amiright? Because he's bugnuts. Maybe we're the ones being gaslit. What a tangled web There's Something Wrong with the Children weaves.
There isn't much tension, and there's not much lore to either honour or betray. The jump scares aren't scary, and the score by The Gifted, whose work I've liked in the past, is slathered so thickly over it all that it does more to set teeth on edge than anything else in the film manages to do. To its credit, the picture opens with The Sisters of Mercy's goth classic "More," albeit not for any reason I could discern other than that it's a great song. There's Something Wrong with the Children isn't a gothic horror, after all, not even the Southern kind, so perhaps the fight between Ellie and Margaret mid-film about childlessness and male sexual jealousy is what the song is meant to call out. Probably it's just there during a title sequence featuring Spencer and Lucy running around in slow-motion because, much like the rest of the film's stage setting, there isn't much going on to tie the story to its location. I had a tough time with this one for many reasons but mostly because There's Something Wrong with the Children seems to want to have important things to say about its adult characters yet wouldn't know how to say them if it did. That awkward verbal joust midway indicates a desire to make this mishegoss a metaphor for whether or not to have children, or for how the with-spawn have a nasty habit of looking down on the childless without considering the mess they make of their own kids. What better way to lend irony to the controversy than by having the kids be unholy creatures of the night? But then the movie moves on to tepid horror tropes and muddy rules (when does the monster gain telekinesis?), culminating in "getting dragged away by your feet into the house" garbage that passes the time until the final it's over or is it? sting. There's Something Wrong with the Children is boring piffle largely indistinguishable from a dozen other undercooked projects that drop every year. What a pity.