Despite a formidable cast and interesting themes, ‘There’s Something Wrong With the Children’ trades a complex setting for bland horror.
Kids are perfect for horror, but that’s also what makes the market oversaturated with creepy kids’ stories that feel too familiar to be scary or exciting. There’s Something Wrong With the Children finds a somewhat new angle to explore the trope, for which the latest Blumhouse production should definitely be praised. Unfortunately, an insecure direction undercuts the potential of an intriguing concept, getting in the way of an amazing cast and a solid script.
There’s Something Wrong With the Children takes place in some cabins in the wood where two families are spending the weekend together. First, there’s Ellie (Amanda Crew), Thomas (Carlos Santos), and their two kids, Lucy (Briella Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattle). Ellie and Thomas are going through some marital problems, but they both incessantly repeat how their children are the best thing that ever happened to them. Ellie and Thomas are sharing their vacations with Margo (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gilford), a childless couple that chose to focus on their careers rather than the challenges of parenthood. The second couple had some issues before, caused by Ben’s unstable mental health. Still, they are at a good place by now, and due to the pressure of their friends and the fact they get along with Ellie and Thomas’ children, they start to wonder if they shouldn’t have kids of their own.
The setting is ripe for drama, and isolating such complex characters from civilization forces them to confront their issues and desires. All the while, There’s Something Wrong With the Children promises to discuss important issues, such as how women feel they have an expiration date when it comes to having children, how couples need time for themselves away from their children if they want to preserve their marriage, and even the stigma of mental disease and how it feeds distrust to loved ones. Sadly, There’s Something Wrong With the Children never goes to length when exploring its characters because it really, really wants to be a horror film.
As the title anticipates, Lucy and Spencer will find something in the woods that change their behavior at some point in There’s Something Wrong With the Children. The children become more aggressive, creating uncomfortable situations that pit the adults against each other. These evil actions, however, never deviate too much from what children do in the real world, and it seems like There’s Something Wrong With the Children wants the audience to question if the children are being creepy for some dark reason or if it’s all part of their childish games. That, added to some incredible performances by the whole adult cast, could lead to a truly disturbing slow burn. Yet, There’s Something Wrong With the Children often forgets subtlety is a powerful tool and gets in the way of emotional weight by reminding viewers they are watching a horror movie.
Every time the camera focus on one of the kids’ malicious look, it remains static for a second too long, spoiling any doubt one could have about the nature of the tiny monsters. The camera also pans and tilts in unusual ways to underline the creepiness of the setting. Unfortunately, that also happens in dramatic scenes that lose their emotional impact. Then there’s the matter of sound editing. While the original songs by The Gifted are great on their own, when every moment of silence needs to be filled with an eerie soundtrack, there’s no breathing moment to just connect with the characters.
Maybe it’s because of the pressure given by the Blumhouse seal, or because There’s Something Wrong With the Children‘s low budget prevents it from going as bloody and gory as it clearly wants to. The fact remains that a horror movie works better when we can cheer for the characters and worry about their fates. But when the drama is undersold in favor of questionable direction choices, we end up with a film that’s not particularly scary but is also unable to deal with all the themes it evokes. There’s Something Wrong With the Children is fine as it is for a casual watch, but it’s painful to watch such a talented cast trying to salvage a bland horror film that had so much potential to be unforgettable.
There’s Something Wrong With the Children will become available on digital and on demand on January 17.