dir. Narciso Ibanez Serrador
"The world is crazy. In the end, the ones who suffer the most are the children. From war? The children. From famine? The children."
-Camera Shop Clerk
Living in close proximity to the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, I am all too aware of the dangers inherent in the rampant production of children, a phenomenon that has struck many a fair city in this great country. It begins with a few couples moving into an area that they have deemed a neat-o place to raise some young'uns. A few more couples follow suit. The area changes so slowly into a haven for family types that no one notices. A day-care soon sprouts up, pre-existing shops become more children friendly, specialty children shops open up. Before long, a vast army of determined, over-privileged, entitled yuppies hauls its over-privileged, entitled, yuppie spawn through town in an array of high-tech double wide baby carriages. What started as a few people arguing for the right to bring their children into bars, ends in a horrifying blood bath as the very same children they have brought here, overtake their masters and unleash a hellish carnage on the populace. [It's in Revelations, people!] Don't let this happen to you. Stop it before it's too late.
And so continues my tribute to evil killer children movies, a genre that achieved its greatest successes during the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Although long a distinctly American genre, many foreign filmmakers have broached the subject to varying degrees of success. This week I travel all the way across the Atlantic for Narciso Ibanez Serrador's Who Can Kill a Child?, a Spanish take on the subject. Adapted from a novel by Juan Jose Plans, Serrador's film takes its cues from the work of such artists as Alfred Hitchcock and George Romero. With a slow contemplative style, Serrador establishes a distinctive sense of place and characters before introducing the horror and ratcheting up the tension.
British couple Tom (Lewis Fiander) and preggers Evie (Prunella Ransome) travel to the remote Spanish island of Almenzora for a sunny carefree holiday. Although once renowned as a quaint vacation town, it is apparent that something has now gone terribly wrong here. There's a doin's transpiring, consarnit. A few friendly children greet the couple at the coast, but no adults are anywhere to be found. The few shops that Tom and Evie enter appear to have been deserted for at least a week. When they find a local adult, the Brits are informed by him that all the children here went crazy two weeks prior and murdered most of the adult townsfolk. Disturbingly, the children approach the murders with a fervent glee. To them it is a game. They even go so far as to string a man up and use him as a pinata. The blindfolded child swinging at him, uses a scythe instead of a bat to open him up and let free the treats inside to shower on the children below. [Holy Christ on a cracker, that is fucked!] No one has fought back against the children, however, because, as the man says, "Who can kill a child?".
What happens when a loved one becomes alien, becomes a killer? Is it possible to divorce one's feelings from previous objects of love? Who are capable of destroying those whom they have worked so long to protect? Much as in a Romero zombie picture, Serrador's characters constantly struggle with these questions. As viewers we are forced to identify with this struggle. Rather than functioning as a mindless bit of popcorn horror with the standard one-dimensional character body count (not that there's anything wrong with that); Serrador's film asks us to question the horror, thus making the proceedings that much more terrifying.
In the film's most chilling scene, Evie comes to the realization that her unborn child has become possessed by one of the children in town. Writhing in agony, she is helpless as the fetus destroys her from inside the womb. Tom can only watch in horror, as Evie collapses to the floor. [Holy Christ shit, that is fucked.]
Despite its outlandish genre trappings, Who Can Kill a Child? remains rooted in a realistic, almost documentary aesthetic. It takes its time in delivering the genre goods. Indeed, the first twenty minutes or so are devoted to the couple's mainland portion of their holiday. They become acquainted with the local people, customs and festivals before embarking on their fateful journey. Even when the couple enters the island, a large portion of the film is dedicated to their journeys through the deserted town in search of other adults. Although some modern viewers might find this measured meditative pacing boring, the technique works to set a distinctly unnerving tone. When the violence does start, however, Serrador proves a master of suspense. This is the movie that Hitchcock didn't have the balls (or good taste) to make.
Who Can Kill a Child? is not without its faults, however. The opening credits are set against a backdrop of actual footage, from the Holocaust on through the Nigerian Civil War, of people being killed in wars. A narrator mentions that children represent a disturbingly large percentage of war casualties. Throughout the course of the movie, it is made apparent what Serrador is aiming for in this sequence. The eventual rebellion of children against adults, acts as a sort of Karmic retribution for past wrongs done to children. They who for so long had no control over their fates, and suffered the most for the mistakes, crimes of adults have now determined their destiny and are wreaking vengeance on the grown up world. It is an interesting conceit, one that certainly elevates Serrador's work above many of the unthinking peers in this genre. Whereas most of these films are just excuses to show kids doing bad things and getting their inevitable comeuppances, Serrador digs deeper. He at least attempts to broach important issues, an admirable intent. Use of the actual war footage, however, just felt too heavy-handed and crass. It proved a very cheap/questionable way of setting the tone and eliciting a reaction from an audience.
Despite this flaw, there is no denying the power of Serrador's film. True to the era in which it was made, the horror here is unsettling in a way that many modern horror flicks don't approach. In terms of gore and brutality, many horror films nowadays go as far, and sometimes further, than the horror films of the golden age of the seventies. The difference, though, is context. Many of the horror flicks from this era erupted out of a visceral horrified reaction to the Vietnam War and thus acted as an indirect response to the conflict (or direct in the case of this film's use of actual Vietnam footage). Even the most outlandish horror films had something to say. And seeing as these films tended to follow a stripped down realistic aesthetic, they brought the horror home. As my roommate put it so succinctly after watching Who Can Kill a Child?, "That movie is fucked."
[I'm assuming this is the trailer for the German dvd release:]