Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Roxanne Benjamin
Writers: T.J. Cimfel, David White
Starring: Zach Gilford, Amanda Crew, Carlos Santos, Alisha Wainwright, Briella Guiza, David Mattle
By Tom Moore
Director Roxanne Benjamin and Blumhouse team up for a new original horror story, “There’s Something Wrong with the Children,” adding another entry to the growing “evil kid” subgenre that doesn’t reach its full potential.
The film follows a family visiting friends at a secluded cabin area who come across an old fort deep in the woods during a hike. While it appears that nothing is there, the family’s two children, Lucy (Briella Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattle), become entranced by a greenish glow only they can see in a seemingly bottomless pit. Still feeling compelled by the pit, Lucy and Spencer return to it during the night and begin to display strange behavior towards their uncle Ben (Zach Gilford) when they’re seen the next day. As their actions towards Ben become more cryptic, he finds himself in a cat and mouse game trying to get everyone else to see what’s really happening before Lucy and Spencer’s can act on their secretive threats.
Although Lucy and Spencer are the central focus of the film, there’s a bigger spotlight put on the parents for the first half or so. The performances from the adult cast have their fun moments as their dynamic, chemistry, and conversations have an engaging energy to them. There’s something kind of interesting about seeing these characters talk about their unique relationship struggles and parenting perspectives. It plants some good seeds for future conflicts but doesn’t do much outside of helping the plot. At times, it can feel like these conversations want to highlight deeper parts of the characters, like their differing views on parenting and where their relationships are at. However, they never reach a meaningful depth, and the conversations completely die out as the film shifts into the horrors of its titular children.
Even with these interactions having some hooks, the strong focus on the adult characters for so long sucks the horror feel out of the story and creates a slow-burn feel that doesn’t help the film. The pacing can be really slow at times, and it’s only saved when Lucy and Spencer start to target Ben. When the film finally gets to the meat of its horror story, it turns into a real thrill ride. Lucy and Spencer’s taunting towards Ben creates some unnerving moments that make your stomach turn. You’re constantly left unsure with how things are going to play out and it all builds greatly towards the film’s wild third act turn. Plus, it’s pretty interesting how Ben’s undisclosed mental health issues are brought up and used against him by Lucy, Spencer, and everyone else’s hidden perceptions of him.
Unfortunately, the film struggles to fully capitalize on its best horror elements and often gets in its own way. While there are some interesting moments of Lucy and Spencer tormenting Ben’s psyche, it all falls into the same generic bucket with “evil kids” movies. They essentially make Ben look unstable to gain everyone’s trust and then uses that to betray them for their own needs. There aren’t too many unique spins on this idea, and it doesn’t make the film stand out in any way.
The film’s lacks of answers for the mysterious glow controlling Lucy and Spencer is also drastically underwhelming. There’s never any real motivation shown and it’s a horror entity that makes no impression. It’s also a shame that Lucy and Spencer’s surprise bug forms are never shown robbing viewers of a cool and grotesque horror visual. There are these great shadow shots of the bug forms that are remarkable chilling and kind of gross you out, but sadly, they’re never fully shown. With there also being no explanation for why bugs are such a big deal, it just feels random and leaves you more unsatisfied by the lack of answers. Worst of all is that the music from The Gifted is obnoxiously over-used and generally ruins the tension of moments because of how jarring its tone is.
There are certain strengths of “There’s Something Wrong with the Children” that show great promise, but it most underwhelms due to it not delivering enough horror goods to satisfy genre fans nor making good use of its “evil kid” premise.