Violence against children is one of cinema’s greatest taboos, and in an age where audiences are completely jaded, and almost anything goes, it’s a taboo that still remains rarely broken. Other than killing animals, there’s not much that will offend a viewership more than hurting a child. Only a sick fuck would want to see something so awful on screen, and with that in mind, I approached CHILD EATER with great anticipation.
Based on a short (which was successfully funded via Kickstarter), Erlingur Thoroddsen’s CHILD EATER is a supernatural slasher that recalls childhood fears brought on by legends, ghost stories, and monsters that lurk inside the minds of the pre-pubescent. Thoroddsen (I won’t pretend to know how to pronounce his name) brings a Finnish perspective, which isn’t exactly disernible in the filmmaking, but more evident in the Scandinavian folklore-esque nature of the villain.
The story revolves around newly pregnant Helen – daughter of the town Sheriff – who is tasked with babysitting Lucas – a precocious boy living in a house with a horrible history. Lucas swears someone is watching him, first from across the forest, and soon, from his bedroom closet. Things get stranger when a local woman, once attacked by an infamous child killer, calls the Sheriff’s department and claims her assailant is back and ready to kill again.
Strangely, this is the second film in a row that I’ve watched featuring a protagonist named Helen, and here she’s played by Cait Bliss, who has a refreshing girl-next-door quality. Colin Critchley gives a rare decent child performance in amongst what, for the most part, is a mixed bag of acting.
The fall atmosphere is palpable, as the opening scenes of the film are dressed with dead trees and dry, broken glass. The villain is suitably creepy and mysterious, until we see a bit too much of him. Unfortunately, the cracks in the production begin to show through. The low budget holds it back. Some more layers of post-production may have helped with the look and sound, but that obviously wasn’t an option.
Beyond the budget restrictions, all slasher films run the risk of hitting a creative wall, since there’s only so much you can do with the genre. CHILD EATER falls into the trap and devolves into people running aimlessly through a dark forest while making increasingly poor and irresponsible decisions. The cop characters are predictably useless, and before long it becomes hard to sympathize with anyone on screen. The kills are lackluster and the stakes never feel quite high enough.
Our heroine’s transition from babysitter to hardcore badass who doesn’t feel pain isn’t really convincing either. Her arc doesn’t gel with the rest of the story. I guess there’s an attempt here to say something about the anxiety of incoming parenthood, but how that relates to the villain’s backstory and the rest of the characters doesn’t really become apparent.
I haven’t seen the short CHILD EATER is based on, so I can’t speak to how effective the transition was to full length, but as a feature it’s admirable when taking its budget into account, even if it’s wonky overall. You can feel there was passion here and a genuine attempt to making something fun.
But with all that in mind I have one major complaint, and it’s about the name of the film – it’s false advertisement! The villain spends far more time eating adults than it does children, and for that, I can’t forgive it. Kill some kids next time, please. Thanks.