Children manage to be somehow both tiny adults and little aliens who don't understand how human customs work; nowhere is that more evident than in The Children.

Casey's not having the best New Year's Eve. Instead of partying with her friends, she and her family--mother, stepdad, half-brother and -sister--are at her aunt and uncle's home in the country. Even worse, her brother's caught some kind of bug and is spreading it to the rest of the little kids. She and her stepdad don't get along, her uncle's doing that "hey, I'm the cool parent! And also your tits are amazing" thing that happens at some awkward family events, and both her mom and aunt seem ill-suited to having tiny children, let alone a sulky teenager.

Sadly, that's about to be the least of her problems--the kids recover from being sick pretty quickly, only to come down with something a lot worse than an upset stomach and a headache. Like, say, a propensity for rigging Rube Goldberg death traps. And carrying knives.

The Children--a 2008 British film released by Sam Raimi's Ghost House Underground imprint--would do really, really well as a I Don't Know That I Ever Want Kids double-feature with Eden Lake. The question at its heart has a lot to do with an instinct built in to every lifeform on this earth: if necessary, to save your own life, could you kill your own children? Because they will totally kill you. They will do it slowly, and painfully, and giggle while they do it.

Casey's a good choice for the heroine; she's a sulky teenager, pretty and prone to dressing in short skirts and stockings, flirting with her uncle and flaunting her new tattoo: a fetus with wings. ("I'm the abortion that got away." No one ever said teenagers were tasteful.) She's also the only one, for most of the film, to get that, no, these aren't really your kids anymore; these are tiny murder bombs, aimed straight at everyone they see. And no one believes her until the very end, because--well, they're your kids. No one ever wants to think children can do something bad, and you certainly don't want to do anything to hurt them back.

Which is, of course, what the children are counting on.

The kids are mostly set pieces; you can tell them apart, but they don't necessarily have distinct personalities. The adults, however, do: Elaine, Casey's mom, loves her oldest daughter--who she probably had as a teenager herself, if you do the math--but is spending most of her time doting on her younger two and her husband. Jonah, Casey's stepdad, is big into China (you get the feeling he really, really took a lot out of Firefly) and spends his time alternately being irritated with Casey and trying to sell his in-laws on a Chinese herbal medicine scheme. Aunt Chloe loves her children, never really chastising them and doling out gold stars when they do well. (No, seriously. She has a chart and everything.) Uncle Robbie, meanwhile, clearly loves his family but isn't above flirting with his jailbait niece; he's the best of the bunch, and he kind of wants to make out with Casey for half the movie. They're all simultaneously good parents and people who should never have had kids; at any rate, they should have waited to have them, or maybe taken parenting classes first. It just makes it more jarring--in a good way--when the kids flip and the adults immediately think Casey's some kind of serial killer and not, you know, trying to save everyone's ass.

The special effects are slight enough that they're easy to miss. A lot of work was spent making realistic-looking snow, and it pays off. The couple of effect kills are very well-done. No one's really "the hero", though Casey comes closest; she does drugs, flirts with her uncle, and is generally a 16-year-old pain in the ass. The parents are ineffectual at best, and the kids are creepy from the start. Miranda, Jonah and Elaine's oldest, gets it the worst; infected last, the other three are clearly freaking her out and getting her honestly upset.

(The creepiest part, short of the extended "alternate" ending? Casey's friend Lisa casually mentioning that some of the kids in her neighborhood are sick, too. Doesn't bode well for the rest of us, does it?)

This one's a solid B+/A-, though it'd be interesting to see how someone with kids views this. And I wasn't kidding about that Eden Lake double-feature, mostly because I kind of want to see who'd win in a death match between Leah and Brett.
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