There’s Something Wrong With the Children drops a big hint as to what it’s about with that title—but what’s wrong with the kids, as well as the adults surrounding them, not to mention how everyone got that way, are the prickly pleasures in Roxanne Benjamin’s (Creepshow, XX, Body at Brighton Rock) new film, written by written by T.J. Cimfel and Dave White (Intruders).
After an eerie opening credits sequence that establishes the increasingly nightmarish red and green color scheme that runs throughout the movie, we meet an apparently average pair of couples: Ben (Midnight Mass’ Zach Gilford) and Margaret (Raising Dion’s Alisha Wainwright), and Ellie (Silicon Valley’s Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Gentefied’s Carlos Santos). The quartet has rented a pair of upscale adjacent cabins for some rural relaxation, with Ellie and Thomas’ precocious kids, Lucy (Briella Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattle), in tow.
There’s already some perceptible tension between Ellie and Thomas, the result of a recent transgression in their relationship, which we learn about in racy detail. The friction between Ben and Margaret is less obvious; we see them breezily deflecting any conversation about why they haven’t had their own children yet by explaining “We’re not kid people.” Privately, they mull over their decision—or more pointedly, exactly whose decision it was not to have kids in the first place.
Ben and Margaret gamely offer to baby-sit Lucy and Spencer overnight so their parents can get some alone time; though they’re flabbergasted when the kids aren’t in their beds the next morning, the audience is already primed for things to go off the rails. The children haven’t been acting right since the prior day’s hike into an abandoned structure the group discovered deep in the woods, an otherwise unremarkable ruin containing what appears to be a bottomless pit. “The place that shines,” the kids murmur, and since they’re bilingual, their enchantment spills out in two languages: “Es brillante.” When the kids return from their unplanned absence, well—read the movie title, though only a frantic Ben realizes it at first.
There are countless horror movies about spooky children, and quite a few that narrow that storyline to changeling tales; there are also lots of movies about bad things that happen in the woods. There are even several films that hinge on the presence of a giant, sinister hole. There’s Something Wrong With the Children—which is stylishly directed, with a perfectly off-putting electronic soundtrack—takes all of those elements and weaves them into a tale that makes kids into monsters, but also scrutinizes how adults, both parental and childless, react to what rapidly becomes an increasingly awful kid-centric situation.
Among a strong cast, Wainwright is particularly magnetic as a woman who’s long since declared she doesn’t want to have kids, so much so that she doesn’t really think about it anymore—until circumstances force her to reevaluate what went into that choice. The movie is also made especially effective by the performances of Guiza and Mattle, who are perfectly cast and have creepy energy to burn.
There’s Something Wrong With the Children is available now on digital and On Demand; it’ll arrive on MGM+ March 17.
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