There’s Something Wrong With the Children is now available on digital and On Demand. It will debut on MGM+ on March 17, 2023.
Roxanne Benjamin’s There’s Something Wrong With The Children likens itself to kiddies-gone-killer mainstays such as 1976’s malicious Who Can Kill a Child? and 2008’s brilliant The Children. They’re not mirroring experiences — writers T.J. Cimfel and David White play with more demonic mysticism than punctual violence. Benjamin wrings tension out of concerning behaviors from mischievous children, leaning on innocence as a facade. Horror filmmakers aren’t often courageous enough to challenge tropes where underage characters can endure harm or become aggressors, which There’s Something Wrong With The Children looks to correct — albeit an uneven dynamic shift that wades in murky waters when it comes to mental health assertions.
Margaret (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gilford) are the film’s main protagonists, life partners who value their adult freedoms over settling down as parents. Ellie (Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Carlos Santos) live the normalized American dream, raising their youngest son Spencer (David Mattle) and eldest daughter Lucy (Briella Guiza). Their joint vacation in a wilderness cabin cluster turns anxious when Spencer and Lucy disappear into the woods overnight under Margaret and Ben’s watch — only to reappear, distant and eerily detached from reality. Benjamin strives to keep us uneasy as Spencer and Lucy speak a foreign tongue and obsess over a “shine” at the bottom of an abandoned structure’s foggy well, coaxing horror from a child’s imaginative unpredictability.
There’s a vibe about There’s Something Wrong With The Children that scratches a stylish midnighter itch, as an opening scored by The Sisters of Mercy’s “More” twirls cinematography as the stage is set. Yaron Levy’s camera zooms on bright green bug zappers and flips perspectives as if to recreate an upside-down destabilization that Benjamin accentuates. Imagery is vividly colorful, from bloody reds to evergreen forestation, creating this pop-sensationalism even in darker sequences when youngins peer into misty pits under cavern-like shadows. Regarding aesthetics and energy, Benjamin delivers on pulpy and to-the-point promises. There’s an evil in the air, and more tension in acknowledgement versus hiding away genre elements.
There’s Something Wrong With The Children relies on paired character chemistry, which hits and misses with a favorable average. Gilford and Wainwright provoke giggles as stoned hippie vagabonds trail off serious pregnancy conversations into woodland fairy weed banter. Crew and Santos tiptoe around landmines as a husband and wife still searching for relationship normalcy after their head-first dive into parenthood, spiking tension with pushy or snide remarks in each other’s direction. Then there are Mattle and Guiza, manipulative little jackals who sell their possession overtones as the suspected villains Benjamin entrusts to keep audiences guessing despite their devious actions. Both pipsqueak actors understand the assignment, whether smiling these ominous grins while blood drips from their noses or driving wedges between bickering adults predetermined to trust children blindly — especially when maternal and paternal instincts kick into overdrive.
Although, There’s Something Wrong With The Children has its shortcomings, whether that’s a half-explored character arc involving bipolar disorder or basic executions beyond what’s already been mentioned. There’s plenty to be said about endorsement versus depiction — see last year’s Smile and its divisive finale — which Benjamin does not fear. However, there’s a messiness to said character’s struggle with bipolar disorder and his spiral. This obstacle intertwines with the children knowingly exploiting the way outsiders view mental health conditions and escalate their “crazy” language, only as a measure of the lengths between society’s acceptance and misunderstanding when it comes to these diagnosable bouts. That’s not to say it’s handled on a doctorate thesis level of explanation, merely a tool exploited by the nastiest of villains.
Elsewhere, Benjamin manages luster before “lack” enters vocabulary. There’s Something Wrong With The Children is energetic but expected, scratching the surface of kindertrauma thrillers from Children of the Corn to what feel like specific screencaps that’d mirror The Children. Mattle and Guiza are creepier than radioactive cafeteria lunches, yet horror scenarios aren’t fantasized past dangerous hide-and-seek gamesmanship or antics that feel like getting away with literal murder. Benjamin’s vision is the anchor that steadies a rockin’ but ultimately rocky ship, granting safe passage despite a bumpier ride.