Retro Scares are Found in the Woods with There’s Something Wrong with the Children (2023)
Title: There’s Something Wrong with the Children
First Non-Festival Release: January 17, 2023 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Roxanne Benjamin
Writer: T.J. Cimel, David White
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Starring: Zach Gilford, Alisha Wainwright, Carlos Santos, Amanda Crew
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Parenthood is a difficult conversation to broach in any couple’s lives, as it takes the relationship in a new direction. Those fears of added responsibility, worry, and exhaustion are well-founded and serve as reasons to abstain from having kids.
On a weekend vacation with friends, Margaret (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gilford) are having this exact conversation. Both seem interested in the idea enough to warrant conversations, but their proximity to their friends, Ellie (Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Carlos Santos), make it so they can enjoy parenthood from afar. Both take on a familiar role to Lucy (Briella Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattle), the two young children of their best friends. After a chance encounter in some unknown ruins nearby the kids begin acting strangely when they return to the cabin, but only Ben seems to notice.
There’s Something Wrong with the Children is a fresh and tense take on the creepy kid subgenre of horror.
While the content of the film isn’t anything novel, the point of view switch makes for an interesting subversion for this type of film. The setup in There’s Something Wrong with the Children leans into tropes most associated with changelings. In most films abouts changelings, after a child disappears and returns, it is a relative that notices a change in the child, most often a mother. This perpetuates the idea that a mother knows her child best, and the disbelief that follows typically comes from some form of sexism discounting the mother’s thoughts or fears.
In There’s Something Wrong with the Children, Ben is given this arc. Not only is this unique given the subgenre, it allows for a bigger conversation to be had about the ways that masculinity is positively portrayed in media. Throughout the film, Ben is presented as a nurturing and kind man, who understandably has some reservations about actually taking on the responsibility of having children. He plays with the kids, takes on babysitting without any hesitation, and even saves them from accidentally hurting themselves the first time they visit the ruins.
Things change the next day once the actual horror begins. His wife dismisses his concerns once he shares that something is going on with the kids and confides in her with what he saw when he went looking for them. This plants the seed of distrust in her and brings up his mental health issues. From here, the message gets diluted when the story takes a different turn, but for the first half it is executed brilliantly.
Director Roxanne Benjamin brings a unique presence behind the camera that is typically lost on the direct to streaming Blumhouse releases. From the beginning, there is a sense of dynamism that keeps things engaging in the film. Small moments of danger are given adequately paced moments of panic from Ben and Margaret before they swell to something bigger over the course of the film.
By the third act, the camera lingers in There’s Something Wrong with the Children long enough to pull tension out of its wild conclusion. Going along with its distinct 80s theme, it draws parallels to several classic examples of forest horror like Evil Dead and Pet Sematary. Benjamin knows how to ring out the tension in organic ways while keeping true to the zany spirit of the films she emulates. The synth heavy soundtrack and bright neon green lettering in the title cards cue viewers in for a fun time, which is exactly what the film sets out to do. Still scary, but fun in an eerie way, Benjamin nails the tone of the film decidedly.
While there is little inoffensive about the film, the cast does struggle to sell the premise consistently. Of the adults, Gilford’s take on Ben is the most natural and interesting. His subdued mannerisms and quiet voice make for an excellent subversion of more typical expressions of masculinity in horror. Wainwright does well throughout most of the flick, but there are moments that feel less authentic, sometimes due to clunky dialogue. Crew and Santos’s lack of chemistry and the children’s hit-or-miss creep factor, however, bring the film down decidedly by the time it really counts.
For many, the creepy kid subgenre of horror is difficult to get into unless you are close to little ones in your own life. There’s Something Wrong with the Children makes some strong arguments for the childfree crowd without pushing back too far on the concept of parenthood altogether. Interesting subversions of the subgenre make this strange sci-fi horror hybrid one to watch especially once it eventually hits EPIX and is easily accessible for all subscribers. Taking care of kids can be hard, but watching movies where they take care of the adults in their life is easy enough, so make watching There’s Something Wrong with the Children a priority.
Overall Score? 7.5/10