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IFI Horrorthon 2015 Review - CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT

A remote Argentine orphanage is home to precocious vampires.


Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Iván Noel

Starring: Ana María Giunta, Toto Muñoz, Sabrina Ramos, Lauro Veron




"Children of the Night is a full blooded Argentinian red; probably not for kids, but fruity and rich and moreish, with notes both surprisingly sweet and deliciously sour."




Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of horror film. The first, and most familiar, builds upon scenarios where an external threat encroaches upon everyday normalcy, with the horror generated from the ensuing bloody upset of the status quo (for example, any given slasher film). The second type, however, reverses the structure, depicting an ostensibly normal protagonist who is set adrift in a world of horror, a realm of terrible wonder and weirdness; see Suspiria, El Orfanato, Pan’s Labyrinth or most other Guillermo del Toro flicks for that matter. Being more esoteric, the latter form is rarer, but finds a strong example here in Argentina’s Children of the Night, wherein a plucky female journalist is summoned to a remote children’s home… only to discover that its pale inhabitants are actually rinky dink vampires!
Perhaps the children’s guardian, the Baba Yaga-like matron Erda (Ana María Giunta), has had trouble with the home’s lecky bill, as thick chiaroscuro shadows obscure the deep corridors and cavernous rooms of the orphanage (named ‘Limbo’), and heroine Alicia’s (Sabrina Ramos) first night is interrupted by the discordant sound of young kids singing in the dark (surely the most unnerving noise imaginable). There’s a de rigueur slow burn as Alicia gradually realises what’s actually going on in Limbo (the clues are pretty blatant - the orphanage’s name, the disease which supposedly affects the kids is called ‘Transylvirus’; she’s supposed to be an investigative journo!). And when that’s out of the way, we’re introduced to our threat; some fearful vampire hunters.
There’s more than a shade of Del Toro in Children of the Night’s whimsical fantasy. The film weaves fairy tale motifs alongside its amusingly pragmatic take on vampire lore; in the film’s opening sequences, dropped off near the mysterious institution, Alicia traverses the last leg of her journey from the urban world into an arcadia of pinking skies and darkening forests that hide furtive strangers; yet when the true nature of the home becomes clear, the administration of the children’s condition is logical and convincing. There’s a charming moment late in the film when Alicia interviews the kids and asks the sort of questions we’ve all probably wondered about vampires (‘Don’t you get bored of blood?’). The poise of fantasy and verisimilitude works especially well within the milieu of the orphanage, which is mined thoroughly for all of its gothic potentials.
As this is the secondary type of horror, our sympathy is firmly on the side of the ‘monster’, the antagonists (like Decker in Nightbreed, or the film crew that invade Skull Island) representing a deadly force of conservatism and conformity, perversity masquerading as a wholesome normality. Children of the Night’s hunter baddies are a bunch of balding and frustrated two pin din plugs, the sort of angry blokes that you’d find in the impotent ranks of the EDL. The ‘leader’ of the children, the creepy Malachai-alike Count (no prizes for guessing his bloodsucking lineage), wages a careful war of attrition against this murderous clan, as they attempt to snatch kids from the grounds in the dead of night; it transpires that Alicia has been targeted to specifically help their ‘fight against the forces of evil’.
Like Eli in Let the Right One In, or Claudia in Interview with the Vampire, it isn’t accurate to refer to the vampires of Children of the Night as kids; they are decades old, yet eternally preserved in the youthful form of their turning. Children of the Night takes this cruel contradiction as part of its philosophical approach to the nature of the supernatural, with references to Peter Pan, and Alicia herself, who, with her mop of red hair, open face and too-big glasses is something of a woman-girl herself (although, her suggested relationship with a reunited childhood flame is a little too weird). Furthermore, being Argentinian, Children of the Night is privy to a Catholic sensibility, where the macabre practices of the children are juxtaposed with transubstantiation - but don’t worry if all this intellectualising seems a little pompous, the film still manages to deliver on the gore front, with one of the children’s more memorable victims hung from a ceiling with a tap inserted into his abdomen, as if he’s a human juice box - kids, eh?! Children of the Night’s commentary on the modern genre is summed up by the witty use of found footage at the film’s end; where horror’s most reductive and lazy trope is drolly contextualised within a circumstance otherwise resplendent with imagination, wonder and magic.
I can’t argue that Children of the Night is perfect; there is a sub-plot concerning Alicia’s dickish fella that the film doesn’t need, and, on my screener, the subtitles were a bit dodge (although I have un poco Spanish, so I got by); but I can say that I found so much to love in this film. So many moments of creepy delight; a kid with her finger half bitten off met with hearty chuckles from the Matron (‘it will be better by the morning’), poetic moments like the children racing delicate paper boats downstream, the beautiful score, which shifts from music box tinkles to throbbing Tangerine Dream-esque synths (reaching euphoria to emphasise bloody catharsis when the kids vamp out; what sweet music they make…). One of the inhabitants of Limbo is a pint sized sommelier, who pours out dinner ‘wine’ with pretentious élan; in the spirit of that vampire, I’d say that Children of the Night is a full blooded Argentinian red; probably not for kids, but fruity and rich and moreish, with notes both surprisingly sweet and deliciously sour. 





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