A Creepy Kids List!
by Kristin Battestella
These teen, tweens, and kids are battling more than their fair share of doppelgangers, evil children’s books, and you know, cannibalism. You millenials!
Another Me – Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors), Rhys Ifans (Anonymous), and Claire Fiorlani (Meet Joe Black) anchor this 2013 British/Spanish doppelganger teen thriller which is admittedly poorly structured and padded to start with violent dreams, a trying to be ominous narration, and critical family moments shown in flashback rather than real time. More Macbeth and high school play jealously cliches, emo photography, and music moments litter the first ten minutes, but Meyers makes for a dreamy drama teacher alongside lingering shadows, assorted reflections, filming through windows, and double camera trickery. Coming and going gaslighting a neighbor, quick passing glances, double takes, and ignored graffiti warnings add simmer while single white female same haircuts and frienemy understudies shape a waiting in the aside, play within a play dual layer. Stairs to and tunnels fro delay the foreboding but the claustrophobic, up close elevator panic is well done amid fine illness, adulterous stupidity, and marital breakdowns. We don’t see many scary encounters – just an overreacting teenager jumping to conclusions when she could have, you know, asked her parents if there was an in utero twin problem. The pace is slow and unsure in giving the character drama room or allowing for the supposed to be spooky. A tale can be both but the round and round builds up to a bigger scare that doesn’t happen, the physicality of it all is never really explained, and the outcome is fairly obvious. It might have been interesting to have seen the villain, experienced her double interactions, and witness some opposite acting chops from Turner. Fine twists do happen, but with seven minutes of credits eating into the 85 minute runtime, writer and director Isabel Coixet (My Life without Me) needed both more development time for the deserving cast and a tighter focus on the phenomena. This is nothing new to longtime scary viewers – similar plots have been done better in The Twilight Zone’s “Mirror Image” and Poe’s “William Wilson” – but the PG-13 spooky will be entertaining for younger audiences.
The Babadook – Up close screams, distorted past accidents, bad dreams, and checking under the bed make sleep uneasy for mother and child in this 2014 Australian thinking person’s horror. Kid gadgets, magic tricks, a locked basement filled with memento mori, and the wonderfully freaky eponymous but anonymous book have us believing in gruesome children’s stories once again as the pop up contents become a bit too interactive. Forget school and social pressure, a boy has to defend himself and his mom against those monsters! The youthful fears, wise for his age, and natural innocence are immediately endearing, as is the much lauded Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) as our kind, relatable, working widow. Her life has been difficult, lonely, and getting worse– a scared kid climbing into bed all the time ruins the ‘me’ time, doesn’t it? Paging Doctor Freud! Close cut, intimate editing builds suspense, keeping the pent up, internal focus as the child’s play turns dangerous. Instead of desensitizing thrills, we feel the real life fears as the seemingly supernatural blends with seven years of escalating grief. Family abnormalities, paranormal possibilities that psychiatry can’t handle, monsters that manifest on such daily traumas – is our pair too attached to each other in this battle or fighting alone? Where is the line between evil possessions and their own warped reality? Dark corners and a depressing, monochromatic home allow for unseen horrors to brew and fester over the 94 minutes alongside a progressively unkempt style, insomnia haze, here or not there bugs, overnight gaps in time, and floating under the covers apparitions. A lack of sisterly help, snickering police, and truant officers accent the late night television parallels, further blurring the lines between monsters and actuality. In the absence of empty shock moments, immediate adrenaline, and jump scare spectacles, the scary sounds and shadows simmer. Some viewers may predict the dog worries and a bit of the tables turning, but the intense times and maternal power use horror to say what can’t be said and create discussion as good scares should. Female-centric horror not done for the titillation, who knew?
The Toy Box – Animated legends and Norfolk fairytales open this 2005 slasher with happy kids games and magical storytelling – until a pet ends up in the blender…yeah. Colorful interiors, a quirky house, and should be quaint locales set the scene for holiday family gatherings, but creepy artwork is being sent in the mail – er post – and unnecessary, shaky cam zooms interfere with the bizarre parents, crazy granny, too close siblings, and taut tension at the table. Choppy editing keeps restarting the story with little explanation on who is who, and numerous scenes fade out without really ending or serving any purpose. This film reeks of an incomplete fly by night production disguised as weird trying to be avante garde – enough with the ritual echos, unexplained nonsensical, and juvenile cartoons. Though shrewd, affordable, and in keeping with the child fantasy aspects; the animated recountings of local myths also feel like the cheapest way to show rather than tell. This animation and the disjointed childhood flashbacks delay the story at hand when websites, books, and intriguing characters telling tales about the fire is information enough. Along with distorted dreams and just the right amount of gore, mysterious amulets, candlelight dinners, smoky mirror reflections, snow, and meat hooks build mood over the eighty minutes. Yes, too many confusing things are happening and much of this will be too out there or just plain dumb for some audiences. It’s tough to forgive the low budget mistakes and struggling production shortchange dominating over all the good potential, violence, and horrors, too. Fortunately, there are enough frights in the final act for viewers to hang in there for the twisted enjoyment of seeing folks get what they deserve.
We Are What We Are – A bleak outdoors, dangerous rains, and thunderstorms open this 2013 cannibal family remake amid missing posters, meat grinders, early deaths, and yearly fasting rituals. Clearly something icky is afoot. Despite somewhat recent vehicles and cell phones, old fashioned clothes on the line outside, radio weather reports, and a tape recorder dictation for an autopsy make the rural separation and backwoods upstate onscreen seem older. Candlelight and shadowed buildings are well shot, with wild looking and harsh father Bill Page (American Psycho) singing hymns and saying his children shouldn’t be scared. Up close shots of spoons to the mouth and a variety of foods add to the coy hints – coughing up blood, a dog finding bones, repeated “no flesh, no fruit, no grain” talk. Others must eat regular food before it spoils due to storm outages, yet the title hearkens an ‘we are what we eat’ witticism. A zoomed in focus on the flipping pages of a medical book turning with the camera cuts until the all stop on our C word makes for a quaint but fresh take on the research montage, too. Compared to some expecting big scares, the well paced, simmering dread may seem slow. However, we must see this escalating sinister through because clearly it can’t go on as is – again playing on the title’s ‘it is what it is’ perpetuation as this legacy fights against morality, desperation, grief, and rebellion. Wise doctor Michael Parks (Kill Bill) and friendly neighbor Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) provide sophisticated antagonism alongside superb moments of colonial history and extreme Donner inheritance. How far will this monstrous family need go? More pre and post films are planned, and hopefully, they are just as good and don’t become diluted into trite teen angst. Enough blood and gore accents the do what they must violence, bonus twists, and brief ritual nudity complete with rattling chains before superb at the table confrontations and a tasty finish. Ironically, I must admit this movie made me hungry and appreciative of proper cooking! Now, why the flip wasn’t this in cinemas? 17 screens does not count as a proper release.