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Post-millennial horror has facilitated the mainstream resurgence of a number of defunct subgenres. Among the rape/revenge, home invasion, and redneck killer flicks are a solid crop of evil kid movies (not to be confused with ghost story movies that feature spooky kids), including David Moreau & Xavier Palud’s Them (aka: Ils, 2006), George Ratliff’s Joshua (2007), Jonas Barnes & Michael Manasseri’s Babysitter Wanted (2008), Tom Shankland’s The Children (2008), Aisling Walsh’s The Daisy Chain (2008), James Watkins’ Eden Lake (2008), Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan (2009), and Makinov’s Come Out and Play (2012). Generally speaking, evil kid movies are extensions of other subgenres, but the best of them play with the societal and biological compulsion of protecting children. Often, the only reason evil kids get the upper hand is because adults can’t bring themselves to break the taboo of hurting a child. In some cases, such as Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s aptly titled Who Can Kill a Child? (1976), the psychological consternation of defending oneself against violent children is the foundation of the entire movie. More recently, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) took the concept a step further by focusing on the existential terror of dealing with an uncontrollable child.

Evil Kid Double Feature

Goodnight Mommy


In a lonesome house in the countryside in the heat of midsummer, nine year-old twin brothers await their mother’s return from the hospital. When she comes home with her face obscured by bandages, nothing is like before and the children start to doubt whether this woman is actually who she says she is. (From RADiUS’ official synopsis)

Writer/director team Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala’s dramatic/fictional feature debut Goodnight Mommy considers the psychological themes of past evil kid movies, specifically the whole biological imperative thing. Franz & Fiala set their film apart by limiting the size of their cast and telling the story from the point-of-view of the ‘evil’ kids themselves, rather than the adult they are menacing. And, unlike Sean MacGregor/David Sheldon’s Devil Times Five (1974) or Ed Hunt’s Bloody Birthday (1981), we’re forced to identify with the little monsters. In doing this, Franz & Fiala also pull from the fairytale tropes. ‘The Mother’ (we never learn her name) is a bit terse and cold, but her actions aren’t particularly villainous; yet, because her rules and regulations are being framed by the boys’ experience, she ends up embodying a wicked stepmother stereotype. Even though the adults in the audience likely assume that The Mother is just cranky due of her surgery and other issues that would constitute spoilers (not to downplay the fact that she is abusive and deals poorly with just about every situation), the information we are given frames all of her actions as suspicious and cruel. Even when she does really weird shit, like wander into the forest nude, it’s usually clear that these are images from the boys’ overactive imaginations. And, ultimately, that’s what Goodnight Mommy is about – the dangers of not explaining emotionally difficult situations to the children that depend on you for emotional stability. This makes it a companion piece to Babadook, where a mother’s refusal to deal with bereavement nearly turns her into a literal monster.

Before Goodnight Mommy, the directing duo made a 2012 documentary entitled Kern. This factoid lead me to expect a more gritty, handheld movie, but what I got was the complete opposite. The camera movement is minimalistic in the extreme and the compositions are precise to the point that the images feel uncanny. What this documentary preparation does do for the film is allow scenes to play out very naturally, despite the very ‘scripted’ imagery. This naturalism helps normalize the behavior of the young stars, Elias and Lukas Schwarz, and makes it a bit easier to accept their latter actions. The more strictly ‘horrific’ or at least gross moments are sometimes inadvertently silly, especially in the face of a number of successfully spooky images that don’t serve a specific scare. So much of the quality of Goodnight Mommy is found in its tone and themes that I actually find myself regretting Franz & Fiala’s need to turn it into a shock machine, specifically the torture-centric final act. The slow descent into darkness is palpable enough to make my skin crawl and, even though the cockroach and superglue stuff is certainly shocking, I’m not sure the movie really needs it. The impact of the childlike cruelty would probably be more powerful without the reminders that we’re watching a horror movie.

Vague spoiler: Spoiler There is also a twist at the end of the movie that doesn’t betray the themes or basic plot, but it is entirely unnecessary in the way that so many third act horror movie twists are unnecessary.

Goodnight Mommy was shot on 35mm film and is presented here in 2.40:1, 1080p HD video. The directors and cinematographer Martin Gschlacht actually shoot the film under the kind of soft lights that most modern filmmakers would use for a digital HD feature. The presence of film-based artefacts, such as fine grain and slightly rough gradations, becomes uniquely eerie and subtly off-putting. Large swaths of the film are also quite dark, which pumps up the grain and sometimes leads to something that looks like compression noise. Indoor sequences, most of which are shot with minimal lighting, are soft as well, something that is magnified by shallow focus. Though this can lead to posterisation, the fact that vague shapes of these largely grey and blue elements can be discerned is a credit to the transfer’s overall clarity. In contrast, the outdoor daylight sequences are vibrant with lush greens and warm yellows. These feature more complex textures and sharper details, minus the slight haloes seen in the interior scenes. Some of the black levels are a bit weak, but not inordinately so.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is very expressive. While valuing the power of silence, the sound designers rarely leave the channels completely empty. The most impressive moments are the select outdoor sequences, where chirping bugs, lapping waves, thunder, and tumbling hail clang and clatter throughout the stereo and surround speakers. Dynamic range is keyed high enough to make everyday noises crackle and pop against the silence. Dialogue is clear and consistent. Olga Neuwirth’s evocative and thoroughly spooky ambient score offers a bit more stereo movement and gives the LFE a nice throb.

The only extra is a conversation with the filmmakers (12:50, HD), where they discuss their characters, themes, inspirations, and the challenges of filming children.

 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature


Evil Kid Double Feature

Cooties


When a cafeteria food virus turns elementary school children into little killer savages, a group of misfit teachers must band together to escape the playground carnage. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)

While Goodnight Mommy takes a psychological approach to the evil kid tradition, Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion’s Cooties happily embraces the more satirical and vulgar side of the subgenre. Cooties follows in the footsteps of similarly gruesome, far lower-budgeted zombie kid movies, such as Max Kalmanowicz’s The Children (1980), in which irradiated moppets kill their parents with radioactive hugs, and Mik Cribben’s Troma-produced schlock-fest Beware! Children at Play (1989) (I suppose even Who Can Kill a Child and Shankland’s The Children take their cues from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and viral infection movies). Screenwriters Leigh Whannell (of Saw fame), Ian Brennan ( Glee), and Josh C. Waller (writer/director of Raze, 2013) acknowledge the amiable grossout tradition of movies, like Peter Jackson’s similarly character and gore-driven Braindead (aka: Dead Alive, 1992), but, instead, they take a more modern, sitcom-friendly approach. The basic plot, set pieces, and other horror-themed elements are very derivative and a number of jokes are too on-the-nose (most of the drug gags and endless 9/11 humour, for example), but the distinctive (possibly semi-autobiographical?) character work is enjoyable enough to overcome a lot of the conceptual familiarity.

First-time feature filmmakers, Milott & Murnion (I assume so many evil kid movies have two directors, because someone needs to wrangle the children?) understand that a lot of their film’s appeal is found in the popularity of their adult cast. This isn’t meant to be a slight on their efforts, because the cast is quite appealing. The adorable leads, Elijah Wood and Alison Pill, are supported by all of your favourite television stars – some of which seem to have brought their own ideas and dialogue to the final product (co-writer Whannell acts among them and gives himself a lot of the best lines). The imagery is pleasant and colorful, which sells the whimsical tone even as extremely grotesque zombie chaos ensues, and the action direction is surprisingly adept for a medium-budget horror comedy. You’ve seen this before and you’ve probably seen it done better (not to mention scarier), but Cooties is too cute to complete dismiss.

I couldn’t find any specs on what kind of cameras Cooties was filmed with, but the overall look and credit for digital intermediate work leads me to assume it was shot on 35mm film, then graded, um, to look digital. This 2.35:1, 1080p transfer is as good as we can expect from a heavily processed, film-based image. Cinematographer Lyle Vincent divides the movie into plush and pastel daytime palette and a much darker and (sometimes) neon nighttime palette. Details are tight and relatively clean throughout most of the film. Close-up, well-lit textures look fabulous without any notable haloes. Grain picks up considerably during the dark scenes, sometimes leading to low level noise and blocking. These might not have been avoidable and certainly don’t get in the way of the consistent colour quality (the red and greens that pop up after the lights go out are incredibly vivid). The occasionally plushy palette dissolves some of the black levels a bit, but the overall gamma is dynamic enough to properly separate everything.

Cooties is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. The sound design is minimal between horrific sequences. Dialogue is clean, but incidental effects are pretty understated. I suppose this leaves a lot of room for the score to fill the void. The music is supplied by Belgium-based electronic group Kreng (aka: Belgium-based human being Pepijn Caudron). The music has a whimsical side, similar to the kind of stuff Danny Elfman used to do for Tim Burton, but also executes the basic needs of a scary movie. The zom-kid attacks and Jorge Garcia’s mushroom are the aural highlights, including lots of screaming, growling children and evisceration noises.

Extras include:
  • The Cootietary – This commentary track features co-directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion from Spain, writer Leigh Whannell from a different city in Spain, and Ian Brennan, and actors Rainn Wilson, Elijah Wood, Alison Pill, and Jack McBrayer from LA. The Skype quality of the track leads to some delays and the sheer quantity of participants causes overlap, but the overall effect is fun and relatively informative, assuming you’re okay with a lack of focus.
  • Circle, Circle. Dot, Dot...Catching Cooties (13:20, HD) – An EPK style featurette that efficiently runs down the basic behind-the-scenes story.
  • Twelve deleted/extended/alternate scenes (16:00, HD)
  • Gag reel (4:00, HD)
  • Alternate ending with optional cast & crew commentary (4:10, HD)
  • Talking Cooties (9:20, HD) – Video footage of the cast & crew conducted during the recording of the commentary. I suppose there was a chance of a PiP option early in the Blu-ray’s development.


 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature

 Evil Kid Double Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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