Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A horror treat to start off the year with a bang is always welcomed by yours truly, and here comes There’s Something Wrong with the Children to fill that quota. Director Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound, XX) brings a signature flashy style to this unconventional genre film. Following in the tiny footsteps of evil-kid chillers like The Prodigy or The Omen, There’s Something Wrong with the Children posits that there is nothing scarier than corrupt children. All things considered, this is a pretty fair assessment to make well before we reach the suspenseful conclusion.

Margaret (Alisha Wainwright, Palmer, Death of a Telemarketer) and Ben (Zach Gilford, Midnight Mass, Devil’s Due) head out for a weekend getaway with their married best friends, Ellie (Amanda Crew, She’s The Man, Final Destination 3) and Thomas (Carlos Santos), and their two children. It begins innocently enough, until Ben and company make a vital mistake. They stray off the path, cutting their own way through the deep woods until they reach the mysterious ruins of some unknown building structure. Housed here, they come across a massive hole in the ground that seems practically bottomless. Before they depart, the son Spencer (David Mattle) has almost thrown himself down the gaping hole, or what he calls “the place that shines.”

Later the next day, the children are volunteered to stay with Margaret and Ben in their cabin for the night. This will give Ellie and Thomas ample alone time, and further opportunity for the kids to grow closer with their “aunt and uncle.” Spencer begs to revisit the “shining place,” hissing in anger when Ben refuses him. The very next morning, Margaret goes to wake the children only to discover their beds empty. His stomach in knots, Ben heads out to look for them before Ellie and Thomas take notice.

The pre-horror conflict is mostly familial in nature. Ben and Margaret are focusing on their careers right now and traveling, so they naturally do not want kids anytime soon. On the flip side of the coin, Ellie and Thomas are obviously very invested in their own offspring, and fiercely protective towards them. They seem at completely different mindsets and stages of their lives, rooting their friendships in animosity and resentments. Deeply hidden secrets rise to the surface, and tensions bubble in the background. The stranger the children begin to act, the more cracks begin to show in a decades-long bond.

What I really cared about here was getting to the literal bottom of the hole, and the varying swirling questions that kept popping out at me. I was not expecting to end up caring about the characters quite so much. Gilford’s performance carefully approaches often difficult topics with ease, especially in regards to mental health. The others immediately assume Ben is lying when he takes note of the children’s strange behaviors, blaming a history of illness on his alleged tall tales. I wanted Ben to find peace, and to turn the others against Spencer and his equally unnerving sister (Briella Guiza).

There’s Something Wrong with the Children isn’t interested in the easy answers, nor is it willing to wrap up its tale in a tidy bow. Atmospheric creepiness sneaks up on the viewer before assaulting them in the final act with simplistic yet haunting imagery. This Blumhouse production was tasteful in ways I did not expect, and actually displays a surprising amount of restraint given the subject matter. By using a horrifying scenario as the jumping off point and collecting an ensemble of snappy young actors, There’s Something Wrong with the Children does something right that few horror films do. A classy, engaging movie was not what I expected when I sat down to watch—this easily becomes a cinematic surprise arriving in the first few weeks of the new year!

There’s Something Wrong with the Children makes the leap to Digital and On Demand on Tuesday, January 17th, and comes to MGM+ on Friday, March 17th.

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