Tag Archives: Killer Kids

Orphan (2009)

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Filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra knows the steps but not the music, and therefore lacks the ability to make “Orphan” great, or even good, for that matter. I was startled by myriad similarities to “Joshua,” a psycho-child thriller I really liked, but while “Joshua” showed restraint and a gift for nuanced dread, “Orphan” delivers it’s shocks with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

I became wary when “Orphan” opened with a nightmare sequence involving a bloody squalling fetus-monster coming out of Vera Farmiga (who plays an almost identical role in “Joshua,” wouldn’t you know?) We soon find out that the reason for Kate (Farmiga)’s nightmares is a recent miscarriage and an alcohol problem that’s the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’

However, Kate and her loser husband, John (Peter Sargaard,) want to bring light and joy into an orphaned child’s life, so they adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman,) a prim and unnervingly precocious girl with an annoying Russian accent, and bring her home to their nice house and two children, Maxine (Aryana Engineer) is the youngest, a sweet girl who has suffered almost complete hearing loss in an accident, and Danny (Jimmy Bennett) is somewhat of a punk, who fancies himself a bit of a ‘bad boy’ at his school.

The reactions of the two tykes transpire much as you might expect. with Maxine (‘Max’) immediately accepting the strange child and Danny balking at the girl’s presence. But Esther isn’t who she wants you to think she is, and she soon causes chaos and bloodshed in her adoptive parents’ household.

Fucking jump-scares, man! Let me just say up-front, I have watched a LOT of horror movies. I can usually predict when a jump-scare’s going to happen. And this was no exception. Like in the scene where Kate’s gobbling pills in the mirror, I can safely say, “Someone’s going to pop out in the mirror when she closes it.” You know why? Because it’s been done a million friggin’ times before! If I could describe “Orphan” in three words they would be “Cliché, cliché, cliché.”

“Orphan” tries to compensate for it’s utter predictability by tacking on an insanely ludicrous twist ending and some deliberately, self-consciously ‘shocking’ scenes involving young children. Guess what? I did not find these scenes ‘horrifying.’ I found them skeevy and lurid, as I would guess most people with a social conscience would, but certainly not as ‘horrific’ as the filmmaker intended.

When a young child puts on a low-cut dress and make-up and puts her hand on a grown man’s crotch are we not supposed to be a little… concerned? And I know what you’re going to say, “Well, it’s really not any worse than the violence.” Well, let me just say this- pervs aren’t going to be wanking to the violence.

Some beautiful films have been made about blossoming sexuality. Some timely films have been made about child sexual abuse, which transcend the yuckiness of the subject matter. “Orphan” is neither. It is a cheap attempt at shock value. And that ending! Jesus! Could it have been any fucking lamer if it tried? I laughed out loud when the evil little bitch came popping out of the hole in the ice like Michael Myers or something.

Also, most of the good parts of this movie had been taken almost directly from “Joshua.” The way Esther pits her ‘parents’ against each other has been done better in movies like “Joshua” and Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel, “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

I didn’t really care about any of the characters, except maybe Max, and while I liked Sam Rockwell’s similarly dispositioned character In “Joshua,” I found John (Sarsgaard) to be a weirdly ineffectual dweeb. while the kid actors (especially Ariana Engineer, who is hearing-impaired in real life) were decent, the movie was a total fail.

Note- On the other hand, I did get a laugh out of an ad for adoption at the beginning of this movie. Do you back the SPCA before a showing of “Cujo?” There’s a time and a place, people!

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Joshua (2007)

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Holy crap. The kids aren’t all right. The kids aren’t all right at all. And nine-year-old Joshua Cairn (Jacob Kogan) is such a malicious, evil little prick who commits atrocities with such a sense of glee (as gleeful as Joshua’s studiousness and seriousness will allow) that you will not feel anything but hate and loathing for the malignant little tyke by the end. But hey, this movie is pretty good, and for fans of evil-child movies, it’s that much better because “Joshua” maintains a relative sense of realism throughout.

Poor Brad (Sam Rockwell.) No sooner is little newborn Lily out of the hospital than Brad’s wife Abby (Vera Farmiga) starts to mentally deteriorate big-time (Post-partum depression’s a bitch) and child prodigy Joshua starts to act a little… well, homicidal. The family dog, Joshua’s pet hamster, and the class pets at Joshua’s elite private school (an institution that attracts snobs like a cadaver attracts flies) start to meet with fatal accidents, and Brad begins to suspect the worst when the family unite swiftly disintegrates. But could all the mayhem really be being orchestrated by Joshua?

Sam Rockwell is becoming one of my favorite character actors, bringing likability to Joshua’s very flawed dad. Vera Farmiga is a top-notch actress too, but sympathy is in short supply for this shrieking, hysterical woman (I know the horrors of mental illness all too well, but Abby’s out to lunch.) a Netflix user described Kogan’s portrayal of Joshua, the homicidal maniac, as ‘stiff,’ but I actually thought he did a pretty damned good job switching his behavior between that of a wide-eyed schoolboy and a malicious nutcase. This is nothing. Wait until the cretin hits puberty, starts growing hair in strange places. Your problems are going to triple overnight.

As a self-proclaimed fan of every cinematic psychological curiosity under the sun, “Joshua” offered more that enough bizarre insights into human nature. I like how Joshua sets his parents against each other. I love the dynamic of the struggle of power between father and son. Brad’s main concerns are sexual frustration and keeping his family unit from falling to bits. Joshua’s motivations are a little more mysterious. Is destroying his parents his ultimate endgame? Or does he have an even more sinister agenda in mind?

This is the rare movie I wouldn’t mind a sequel to (however,considering the limited release and the child actor’s age progression, the chances are next to nil.) With all the Hollywood hits that get upteen million sequels, here’s sleeper hat feels like it might actually benefit from a sequel and has a nada chance of getting one. Does that seem right? No, not at all, but that’s how the movie industry works. Better get used to it, kid.

“Joshua” achieves it’s goal of being creepy and unnerving, and not just from the initial shock of a small child doing horrible things. There’s definitely a sense of unease at watching the terrible things that happen to the these poor people (except the nine-year-old, may his snotty ass burn in Hell.) It’s a set of disasters that can befall anyone, if a real life Joshua is thrown into the mess, devoid of supernatural or demonic factors. This kind of storytelling is potent and used to good effect here, without the usual crap clichés or plot devices.

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Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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This is one of those rare cases where the book can not compare artistically with its movie adaptation. Sure, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s “Let the Right One In” has more detail, and even works to a certain extent. But I actually think the movie was improved somewhat by being stripped down to its bare essentials, and eliminating extraneous subplots. The book is a pretty good read, but it hardly seems to be in league with the masterpiece the Swedish film version was.

Twelve-year-old Oskar Eriksson is a bullied misfit kid who wants to get back in a big way at his cruel tormentors. He is a overlooked resident of Blackeberg, whose surrounding areas have been plagued by a series of ritualistic killings. Oskar is fascinated by the sense of unease and the corresponding murders and even keeps a scrapbook containing clips of violent crimes. Neither Oskar’s fragile mother or his alcoholic, divorcee dad seem to notice Oskar is harboring a Antisocial streak. But when you’re afraid to go to school every day, life can do that to you.

Then Oskar meets Eli, a strange, thin, androgynous child who encourages him to fight back against his bullies. Eli’s frail façade hides an insatiable bloodlust, but Oskar finds himself strangely drawn to her. How far will Oskar go to protect Eli’s secret? “Let the RIght One In” is a compelling take on vampire lore, but I think it tries too hard to scientifically explain vampirism. Some things are better left unsaid.

The book also offers descriptions of what it feels like to be bitten by a vampire and to turn into a vampire, which is pretty cool. However, it also contains too many characters and feels unnecessarily long. Some passages better explain things left ambiguous in the film, like the role of Eli’s caretaker, Hakan, or the relationship between Oskar and his dad.

In the film, Oskar had a certain innocence and vulnerability that mad him very compelling, despite the indisputable fact that he was a very troubled little boy. The child actor gave that innocence creditability. In the book, Oskar is mostly creepy, someone you don’t want to meet in a dark alley despite his youth and small stature. In this novel, Oskar harbors a fantasy of seeing someone executed in an electric chair and even sets some desks in his classroom on fire (okay, his bullies’ desks, but still, that’s a big safety hazard!)

Oskar still certainly isn’t a completely unsympathizable character, but maybe you have more of a propensity to feel for him when you aren’t looking into that troubled little mind of his. Eli, however, is as compelling as ever, and you get a better sense of who she is the novel, as well as get a more complex look into the grey areas in between the elements of her ambiguous gender.

There’s is some interesting further development of the side characters, but mostly the wealth of detail on the supporting players seems a little ‘meh.’ Despite my quibbles, this book may be still worth reading if you want a more complete picture of a story that proves the vampire genre is not dead. The murderous, predatory class of vampires, not the sparkling one.

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Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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Author William Golding’s classic ‘attempt to trace the defects of human society back to the defects of human nature,’ is as beautifully written as it is barbaric and grim. Even if you are one of the thousands of students for which this was mandatory reading, it might be behoove you to revisit it at an older and wiser age. This harrowing quick read (and seemingly, the author’s only widely remembered novel) is the story of a group of schoolboys who crash on an uninhabited island, and quickly go psycho without the guidance of parents and teachers to keep their homicidal impulses in check.

“Lord of the Flies” is less about character development and plot that the (riveting) descriptive writing and an attempt to see the bigger picture psychologically and sociologically. Ralph represents the benevolent leader who wants to keep the feuding boys in check, Jack, his opposite, the yin to his yang. Fat, ever well-intentioned Piggy is the scientist, and Simon serves as the instinctive, spiritual force of the group.

Several characters ironically state on several occasion that the children are a group of ‘proper English boys.’ This seems to be a satiric jab at the silly assumption that one race is more capable of order and reason than any other. “Aah,” Mr. Golding seems to say, “Wouldn’t the white colonist like to think so.” His is a tale of intrinsic evil, carried out by children, no less, the members of our society considered the most innocent and impervious to blame.

Despite Ralph’s alignment on the side of (relative) good (as a posed to pig-killing, Satan worshiping chaos,) I did not really like him all that much. I did not like the way he treated Piggy, teasing him, nettling him, betraying his confidence and ensuring he would be called an awful nickname for the rest of the book. Like many, I felt most protective of and absorbed by Piggy, who just really wants everyone to get along because ‘what’s right is right,’ and after all, they’re a group of proper English boys, not savages (…Heh.)

The only thing I did not like about the novel (*SPOILER ALERT*) was the way the Naval Officer at the end reacts so obtusely to the anarchy and bloodshed. “Fun and games, eh?” he inquires despite the fact that the whole island is on fire and Ralph is covered is blood and bruises and has even been stabbed by a spear. That was just stupid. I know that it was meant to convey that the miniature whack jobs were really just little boys, as far as an outsider looking in was concerned, but I really did not like how the only adult in the book was a complete dim bulb. (*END OF SPOILER*)

This meditation on human evil and societal decay is a cynical literature reader’s dream, but you don’t have to have a bleak outlook on life to appreciate what’s being done here (although it probably helps.) Mr. William Golding might not be the finest of human beings (Rapey incidents aside,) but he was a Hell of a writer. My wish is that in reading this review you will revisit this classic or discover it for the first time.

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The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

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    Hands down, the craziest book I have ever read, an unnerving combination of Lord of the Flies and The Butcher Boy that never fails to appall and shock. You will hate Frank Caldhaume, the narcissistic, murderous, deluded, misogynistic teenager at the center of this slim volume, but at the same time you’ll be slightly in awe of his gumption; his refusal to live any semblance of a normal life. Frank lives with his weak, disabled father on their own personal island in rural Scotland.

Frank is by no means an ordinary boy. By the age of ten, he disposed of his younger brother Paul and two cousins without a blink of an eyelash. He wanders the island, engaging in bizarre ritualistic activities that invariably end in the destruction of of the wildlife. He mounts animals’ heads on stakes as sick trophies, and the eponymous ‘Wasp Factory’ is a contraption of singular brutality.

Frank’s half-brother Eric is, so they think, safe and sound in a mental hospital. At the beginning of the book, Eric escapes, leaving a trail of burned and eaten dogs in his wake. Meanwhile, Frank copes with his unusual disability that has made it impossible to live a normal life, not that he’d want to, mind you. Cheeky freak, Frank is.

The only two complaints I have with this book were that it ended rather abruptly, and also (though this was a minor quibble) the circumstances between the Frank Caldhaume’s murders were highly unlikely. I may have thought Frank was a despicable human being, but he made a dynamite narrator. He was brilliant, merciless, and cuttingly articulate. Many aspects of the book were horribly disturbing, but that would not dissuade me from recommending this great book, a brilliant first novel and a penetrating psychological thriller.

One scene in one chapter particularly turned my stomach and made me put down the book in disgust. However, there are moments of black humor that leaven the murky darkness. The telephone conversations between psychopathic Frank and madman Eric, in particular, had me laughing out loud. Frank is not your everyday, mundane protagonist, and you (and he, presumably) would not have it any other way.

The twist at the end of the novel is so relentlessly unmitigatedly weird that I was tempted to do a double take of the words on the page. Iain Banks had quite an imagination, but what a twisted, pitch-black psyche it was. I DEFINITELY will be seeking out more books by this author, with a sincere  hope that they will be every bit as tweaked and creative as this one. A glowing recommendation, weak stomachs need not apply.

Let the Right One In (2008)


It’s no secret that “Let the Right One In” is my second favorite movie of all time, and was, in my opinion, in no need of a remake. The experience of watching this movie is akin to that of reading a great book — afterwards you want to recommend it to everyone, in hopes that they will feel the way you did watching it for the first time.

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an unhappy twelve-year-old boy, is bullied by his peers and fantasizes about making them pay, though for the time being the violence stays within the confines of his imagination. While outside his apartment complex at night, he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a strange twelve-year-old who offers him, for the first time, a chance to dream of a different life.

Eli is not like other girls. She goes outside into the bitter Swedish winter wearing no shoes. Occasionally she smells like a putrid corpse. Animalistic growls emanate from her gut. But she floors Oskar with her concern for him and her insistence that he must fight back, no matter what the cost.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, Eli is a vampire, which doesn’t stand by itself as a big spoiler, as it is alluded to in the first twenty-or-so minutes. Eli is not twelve, but rather thousands of years old, and her intentions toward lovelorn, nerdy Oskar are ambiguous throughout.

This is a extraordinarily well-shot film — the snowy, coldly beautiful backdrop is the perfect setting to tell this story, and the cinematography is gorgeous without being showy or pretentious. It is the kind of story that makes you fall in love with its characters. It doesn’t matter if Eli is a vampire or a zombie or even a robot — she is an undeniably real presence, and you root for her as she carries out what must be done.

Lina Leandersson is surprisingly good and carries most of the acting duties on her small, vampiric shoulders. Kåre Hedebrant is a little underwhelming at times but still makes a decent effort, and acts much better than Daniel Buttcliffe is the early HP years. He pulls off the mix of darkness and pain in Oskar’s heart combined with his ultimate naivete.

There’s a lot of symbolism in the second half of the movie (Oskar closing the doors of his toy cars, anybody?) which you may not catch if you are overly literal-minded or are not paying attention. The film never lets us forget the suffering of Eli’s victims, including Lacke, a local drunk she ensnares with a nasty trick and makes a snack out of.

The strength of “Let the Right One In” is that it cares as much about its characters as its blood and special effects. The small bit of controversy it earned with its content involving children is unfounded, and should not deter you from watching what is most certainly one of the all-time greats in modern horror.