One Of The Scariest Scenes In The Children Thinks The Kids Aren't Alright

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Chris Evangelista and Matt Donato. In this edition, Matt makes a case against pregnancy in "The Children.")

Tom Shankland's kinderhorror meanie "The Children" isn't an actual reason to avoid childbirth. That's a joke. Although, I wouldn't recommend the film to newfound parents exploring the wonders of parenting. What occurs is along the lines of "Who Can Kill a Child?" and its remake "Come Out and Play," or "Children of the Corn," where innocence is a coverup for murderous intent. Doubly dreary around the holidays since a majority of Xmas traditions point towards making youngins happy.

"The Children" ranks high atop the list of anti-holiday horror movies. Instead of spending Christmas and New Year's partying or unwrapping presents, kiddies turn into killers who prey upon adults. Children couldn't be capable of such atrocious crimes, and even if they were, how is any parent supposed to enact proper punishments? Shankland and story developer Paul Andrew Williams ponder all these realities aloud, covered in blood, without mercy. Like I said, maybe skip this one if you're either a newfound parent or, on the opposite, suffer from pedophobia.

The setup

Casey (Hannah Tointon) is a rebellious teen forced to spend the winter holidays with her mother, Elaine (Eva Birthistle), stepfather Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore), and two tiny half-siblings (Eva Sayer as Miranda and William Howes as Paulie). They're meeting Elaine's older sister Chloe (Rachel Shelley), her husband Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield), and their two children (Rafiella Brookes as Leah and Jake Hathaway as Nicky). It's all one big happy countryside getaway with sledding hills and plenty of winter wonderland accents. Casey isn't too stoked about it all but has no choice — that's all before a viral infection turns spirits dire.

The story so far

Paulie vomits right after his family reaches their abode for the short future, which everyone presumes is car sickness — but it's the first symptom of an unexplained infection that turns kids into bloodthirsty murderers. Nicky and Leah also show signs that first night, with leftover remnants of black goo on bedtime pillows. We learn dysfunctional details like Jonah's aggressive parenting style and Casey's fetus tattoo ("the abortion that got away"), but nothing prepares the elders for what's about to happen. After dinner ends in anarchy, Robbie takes the littlest ones outside for some playtime — where the first deadly act of mutilation occurs.

The scene

Robbie starts dashing up the backyard hill, with little Leah leading the way, as Paulie's dragged behind in a wooden sleigh. Nicky stays below, playing with a wagon decorated like a rocketship or some vessel. Casey darts into an opening between trees on the outskirts of the incline, seeking privacy in a huff. The mothers clean inside, listening to Jonah handle an unruly Miranda upstairs.

Leah's full of jubilation as she reaches the top of the hill, spinning her father around while the camera jumps between their smiling faces. Robbie picks her up and twirls her dizzy, playing the part of Fun Parent while Jonah continues to keep Miranda separated. After much circular motion, Robbie and Leah stumble towards the sled, which Paulie has positioned in a downhill launch position. Robbie plops down headfirst.

The camera starts skipping between players. Robbie is gliding down the snowy decline — Paulie and Leah are now seen glaring stone-faced as Robbie zips away, their smiles erased. Miranda pukes, signifying her transformation.

As Robbie careens down the hillside, Nicky wheels his contraption into the sled's path. It looks inconspicuous, like a wagon full of junk, except for a hooked and pointed gardening rake protruding from the side. Robbie's head is gashed open by the metal tool — a mortal wound — as the camera holds onto Paulie's face, still looking down from above, coldly emotionless like a sociopath until it's time to put on the innocence show for mommy.

The impact (Chris' take)

I'm not very fond of children, so whenever a horror movie comes along and asks, "What if children were evil?", I think, "Yeah, makes sense." This scene in question is all about suspense, baby! Alfred Hitchcock had a good analogy for suspense. Imagine, if you will, two people are at a table and there's a bomb under the table — but the people at the table, and the audience, don't know it. And then — BOOM — the bomb explodes. That's not suspense — that's surprise. We didn't know it was coming. Now, imagine the same scenario, but this time, the audience knows for a fact that there is a bomb under the table. We know it's going to go off. We hear it ticking. All we can do is sit, and wait, and squirm, until it blows up. That's suspense, folks. And that's what this scene does well. We know the children are going to start bumping people off — it's the whole premise of the film. And we know this poor sledding father is doomed. But he doesn't. And so he can only go along with what he thinks is a fun activity while we sit, waiting for his demise. The entire time, the film employs a series of quick cut and close-ups that only increase the overall tension.