Badvent Calendar Day 7

The middle classes under siege in winter

Two Christmases ago, I briefly discussed Don Taylor’s ‘The Exorcism’ (1972), from the classic anthology series Dead of Night, whose study of people trapped in a house by unknown forces seemed particularly resonant during those lockdown days. A few days ago, I also mentioned The Children, a more recent horror drama about a pair of smug middle class couples facing terrors literally of their own making in an isolated frozen location.

In ‘The Exorcism’, two couples staying in a cottage where an executed agricultural labourer’s family starved to death find their Yuletide celebrations disrupted by the former occupants: They find themselves unable to eat their lavish Christmas dinner due to “griping pains” in their stomach, but also powerless to leave the house. In many ways, it’s an English folk horror take on Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel in its skewering of bourgeois pomposity.

The skewering is rather more literal in The Children, where the noughties couples in question have moved into an isolated house to see in a snowy New Year with their various children, who succumb to a mysterious virus that leaves them with sadistic homicidal urges directed at their elders. Only Casey (Hannah Tointon) the teenage daughter of Elaine (Eva Birthistle) seems to be immune to the disease, though she despises her stepfather, Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore).

She doesn’t think much of the younger siblings she’s acquired via the new relationship either…

“Ever heard of contraception?”

Later she reveals to Robbie, her slimy uncle (Jeremy Sheffield), that she was “the abortion that got away.” Like ‘The Exorcism’, The Children leavens its terrors with acid commentary on the social pretensions of the middle classes, and both include a disastrous turkey dinner, but where the 1973 play derives its cerebral, socially-conscious fears from the past, the implied source of the 2008 film’s more visceral horrors come from the future: new, emerging viri that Jonah obsessively associates with China’s increasing economic dominance. Ironically, he’s trying to interest Robbie in a TCM scheme (that’s Traditional Chinese Medicine, not the TV channel, or indeed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), which looks set to be the latest in a long line of failed start-ups on the part of the sanctimonious, thin-skinned chancer.

So how’s that home-schooling working out then…?

Despite his own spliff-smoking, cargo-knit cardigan-wearing hippy affectations, which include planning to embark on a program of home-schooling, along with his partner and Lainey’s sister, simpering earth mother Chloe (Rachel Shelly), Robbie gives Jonah’s proposal short shrift. For his part, Jonah has been mocking the other couple’s ‘eco-tourism’ business, but this was in the privacy of the bedroom, not at the dinner table! While Elaine, the most human of the ‘adults’, seems sceptical about the home schooling idea, Jonah tries to go one better with:

“Oh, well, I’m teaching Mandarin to Miranda.”

This is not a film for those, like me, who believe the very definition of true horror is ‘bad things happening to good people’, or depicting a world where no good deed goes unpunished. In The Children, the gruesomeness of the character’s screen fate is directly proportional to his or her personal odiousness. But it’s Christmas, so why not enjoy some cruel just desserts?

Alternatively you could watch a real Christmas horror movie, where stalking is glamorised…

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1 Response to Badvent Calendar Day 7

  1. Pingback: Badvent Calendar Day 21 | tomjohnstone

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