Friday, June 05, 2009

Who Can Kill A Child?

Film: Who Can Kill A Child? -aka- Quién puede matar a un niño? (1976)
Dir: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Rating: **** out of 5 stars

The idea of children as villains is hardly new to me, after films like Children of the Corn, Village of the Damned, The Omen, Eden Lake, and a certain French film that I won't name to spare the twist. But Who Can Kill A Child? has got to be one of the best ones I've ever seen. It moves a little slow and is sprinkled with 70s cheese, but at its core it is twisted and unique.

English couple Tom and Evelyn take a vacation to a remote Spanish island in search of peace and quiet. When they arrive, the town seems deserted and only children are seen. While looking for assistance, they witness a little girl beat an old man to death. Before long, they realize something is very wrong with this island and its young inhabitants. They try to flee, but the kids won't let them. If they are to survive, Tom and Evelyn must do the unthinkable - well, you know.

The concept is a great one and full of moral conflict. I imagine it was pretty ground-breaking at the time, too. Especially since these children are not aliens, or monsters, or possessed - they are simply evil little fuckers. They seem to kill without reason or remorse. They kill their own parents, who were powerless to stop them because, afterall, who can kill a child? Let alone your own child? Personally, I think I'd have no problem mowing a kid down if he was trying to kill me. But I can certainly appreciate the ethical conflict, especially for Evelyn, who not only has two children back home but is carrying a baby inside her.

Some scenes in this are downright shocking - even 30 years later - but it did not feel cheap or sensationalized. I LOVE the piñata scene and the tiny, adorable child with a handgun, smiling as he points it at Evelyn's head. This is sick shit but it feels totally real and totally relevant. It makes you question your own morals.

I feared the ending would let me down, but it delivers. It manages to be fucked-up without being a total downer (I'm looking at you, Eden Lake!). The only downside to Who Can Kill a Child? is its slow pacing, especially the beginning. There is at least 30-40 minutes before anything tense happens. And the opening credits are a bit unnecessary, showing 8 minutes of real war footage, particularly dead children. I see where the filmmakers were going with it, but it was overkill (no pun intended).

The whole movie reminded me a lot of the original Wicker Man, both thematically and visually. Both are must-sees, especially if you like a film that is scary and unsettling but also well-told and emotionally satisfying.