Who Can Kill a Child (US - DVD R1)
Reviewer Gabe Powers can, especially if they are as scary as these children...
While on vacation away from their family, Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) sail to an island off the coast of Spain. The small town seems to be deserted, houses and businesses abandoned, until the children emerge from the shadows with the blood of their parents on their hands.
Who can contemplate the unimaginable?
Who can face the unthinkable?
WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? ( bahm bahm baaaahm)
As a fan of '70s Euro thrillers I'm very excited to announce that I knew almost nothing about Who Can Kill a Child before reading what was written on the back of the DVD box. I haven't read more than two or three words about the film in the dozens of books I own on the subject, and I wasn't looking for the film before it was released on DVD. This is a cult film within a cult category.
The film opens with a grim travelogue of mass murder and atrocity through the ages, focusing specifically on the death of children during war time. This reel is not presented with the usual exploitative tint and tone found in so many of the '60s Italian Mondo productions and '80s Chinese torture films like Man Behind the Sun. These eight minutes of somber and plotless footage, interspliced with the credits, are not meant to disgust in any titillating manner. This film is determined to cut us down right out of the gate. It also sets itself up as a pretty obvious political allegory.
Who Can Kill a Child is a slow burn, but the minute it gets where it's going, it is a very distressing motion picture. Scary children are almost exclusively more funny than frightening, but the evil tykes here possess a definite sense of menace. When the excrement hits the fan in the film's final act things get a little silly, but the adult protagonists are sure to remind us of there mad situation, successfully 'hanging a lamp' on the obvious plot problems. The slow burn also helps the film’s occasionally faltering sense of accountability.
There are parallels to the classic Lord of the Flies in theme, but in practice this is The Birds with little kids, and that's not a bad thing. Director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador is very Hitchcockian in his approach, even playing some specific homage. This approach is what will ultimately make the film worthwhile for those not so concerned with digging up obscure grindhouse favourites. Later things turn a little more Night of the Living Dead (which itself is a sort of remake of The Birds), as the children use their combined body weight to break down locked doors, which is equally effective. The plot also has a bit in common with Village of the Damned (the US release title was actually Island of the Damned)), but my favorite comparison would be [i]Children of the Corn, because everything it did wrong, Who Can Kill a Child does right.
I've read Eli Roth's praise for the film in various press interviews, and its influence on Hostel is also obvious. From the basic plot of innocent people vacationing in hostel territory, to the slow build and fact that Hostel features its own gang of murderous children, there are several elements connecting the two films. Hostel takes its more gruesome cues from Italian films of the '70s and '80s, and modern Japanese horror films, but even at 31 years of age Who Can Kill a Child packs a surprisingly potent punch.
Who Can Kill a Child was unexpected joy. It's deeply upsetting without stooping to specifically exploitative means (not that there's anything wrong with that), it's relevant despite a dated look, it's brutal without being too gory (again, not that there’s anything wrong with that), and it successfully takes itself seriously. To some the plot may seem too far a stretch, but the tone is pretty credible, and the performances are top tier. The only things holding this one back from genuine classic status are a few occasions of stilted and unnecessary dialogue and an occasionally plodding pace.
Dark Sky does well with this anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. There's an occasional fleck of artefact and dirt, but the general cleanliness is pretty startling. Grain is present, but not overpowering. The film itself is pretty colourful, and taking place in Spain during the summer, everything is sun baked. Contrast levels are nice overall, but some of the brighter whites do bloom a bit, and there are a few flashes of coloured print damage. The colours are impressive, except skin tones which come off a bit too red, though i suppose gringos do have a habit of turning red in the Spanish sun.
The film is presented in English and Spanish audio at the same time, or the option of Spanish only (which is dubbed). I watched the English/Spanish track, which is two channel mono. The track has few problems with distortion or the like, but is rather flat, and sound levels vary. Each scene basically has one volume level for all effects, dialogue, music, and those levels can be either deafening or nearly silent. For an old and forgotten film this could be a lot worse, but I've definitely heard better from less.
The extras consist of two featurettes/interviews and a still gallery. First is Who Could Shoot a Child, a discussion with cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, in Spanish with English subtitles. Alcaine actually remembers the filming and has some interesting technical topics to talk about. He almost immediately mentions the Birds and Night of the Living Dead angle, instantly making me feel a little less clever for noticing. Alcaine is pleasant and bright, and his interview runs 16 minutes.
Next is Child Director, an interview with the film's director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador. Serrador speaks pretty slowly (possibly because of age, but the giant cigar he's smoking probably doesn't help), and rambles a bit, but still has some interesting philosophical thoughts to share. Among his behind the scenes tales is the fact that he didn't like his lead actor, and had approached Anthony Hopkins for the role. I'm not personally familiar with any of Serrador's other work, so I could've done with a little more personal back-story. The interview runs about 9 minutes.
The still gallery features some great exploitation style, hand painted posters, revealing about a dozen different titles for the film.
A real joy for Euro-thriller fan, I highly recommend Who Can Kill a Child to anyone even remotely interested in the premise. It's kind of the anti- Children of Men if you're willing to stretch. If you like it I also recommend The Offspring (aka From a Whisper to a Scream), a anthology film featuring one very dark tale about some very twisted young'uns.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 26th June 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English/Spanish, Dolby Digital Mono Spanish
Extras: Who Can Shoot a Child, Child Director, Stills
Easter Egg: No
Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Cast: Lewis Fiander, Prunella Ransome
Genre: Drama and Horror
Length: 112 minutes
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