Who Can Kill a Child? Review
The two directors who really got me seriously interested in films were Akira Kurosawa and Dario Argento. Up until then I'd watched films purely for their stories or blockbuster value, but those two directors opened up worlds of interest to me in terms of cultures and method. Particularly with Argento, I enjoyed the artistry of his film making with the shock value of his thriller and horror subjects. The cachet of being a banned film began to appeal to me and I have sought out such films which combine a touch of the forbidden with great craft. Narciso Ibanez Serrador was a director I came to through the obvious thematic influence of his film The House That Screamed on Argento's mesmerising Suspiria. The House That Screamed is an exceptionally well made film that doesn't quite match the brio and style of Suspiria but is clearly just as strong on supernatural horror and cinematic competence, because of this I was looking forward to catching this Dark Sky release of Who Can Kill a Child. The joy of discovering another forbidden gem awaited me but I have to say that I was disappointed after actually seeing the main feature. There are a number of reasons for this but the strongest one is the old fashioned "willing suspension of disbelief". I was simply not able to silence my doubts about the artificiality of the story to enjoy what is clearly intended to be a thoughtful rather than a simple horror movie.
I will admit that I am not particularly fond of children and consequently I don't find the central dilemma of this film very compelling. I would like to be clear that it isn't that I have no problem with killing children, it's more that murderous children would not prove much of an obstacle if they were in the way of my survival. When the holidaying English couple are faced with mowing down homicidal schoolchildren or being murdered by the same bloodthirsty young 'uns, I find myself screaming at the screen when the couple behave in rampantly unbelievable terms because it suits the plot of the film. I am confident that many better rounded adults than myself feel the same way, I mean haven't you ever seen parents watching children's soccer games screaming abuse and threats to their offspring to attack and humiliate someone else's sprogs. But back to the film, according to my knowledge of the human race if your pregnant wife is at risk of being attacked with a scythe, the desire to protect the unborn one is so strong that any perfidy is possible as you defend yourselves but in this movie you develop scruples and hasten your loved ones death by hesitating or being principled. I am sorry I just didn't buy that. It is the brain numbing stupidity of the two central characters' behaviour that lost my sympathy. When they arrive on this misbegotten island they look everywhere for adults and find none and then they finally see an old man who is rather comically beaten with his walking stick by an adolescent cutie. Firstly, the couple just stand there whilst the old geezer has his last breath beaten out of him and then the husband pretends to his wife that said codger is still alive and fails to tell her that the local children are currently using him as a toy for a new kind of pinatta involving a sickle and his head rather than a make-believe donkey and candies. They finally come across other adults who prove themselves similarly demented - one wanders off to be taken to his own slaughter and another is stuck at the local telephone switchboard cursing her lack of any conversational Spanish (do you really go on holiday to remote Islands and know no local lingo?). In the conclusion to the film, one of the adults finds the intestinal fortitude to massacre the little angels but even when they have finally discovered that violence is necessary, the adults act in cretinous ways which defy belief - such as dropping a machine gun to the ground when it is still a clearly useful element of their escape. As I saw it, the adults in Who Can Kill a Child are asking to be put out of their stupid misery and I found it hard to mourn them as they succumbed to their various ailments of idiocy.
The morals of the film also suffer from a sentimentality which is awfully cheap. The film begins with pictures of newsreels of atrocities of the twentieth century featuring children such as child corpses at Auschwitz and the famous napalmed Vietnamese girl footage. This footage is left as a gnomic explanation of the advent of the homicidal infants in the film. The implication is that children have had enough of being the fodder of adult evil and have decided to revolt, but this is not really nailed down and other explanations for the behaviour are left floating in the air - is it a virus, is it a form of collective consciousness and evil telepathy? It seems the intention is to borrow the pseudo intellectual clothes of a film like Night of the Living Dead to give this movie some depth but actually the failure to concretise an explanation or a convincing analogy leaves it awfully impotent and a little incoherent.
Technically, the film suffers from a script of some retardation but also some very poor acting from the male lead. This is rendered even worse in the Spanish dub but his mixture of emotionless panic and lack of depth hamstrings everyone around him. The best of the acting comes from the children who are comfortably evil and bloodthirsty in a way that I assume is second nature to most offspring. The cinematography is provided by Jose Luis Alcaine who went on to lens Almodovar's most recent work and he maintains a punishing hot effect throughout and his work is generally indicative of quality production work by the crew. Despite this craft, the basic failing of the work is its poor realisation and throwaway opening. The idea of the children of the world taking over has great power especially in the context of the war crimes of the last century but this opening montage is tacked on and barely used by the screenplay to give resonance to the holiday makers' predicament. The serious message is then undermined by the unbelievable actions of the adults in the film and what is left is a ponderous mess with little impact other than in the few scenes when violence towards the children occurs, and the final attempt to "homage" the ending of a very famous horror film simply shames this film in its comparison.
Who Can Kill a Child may have more of an impact on someone who has more of a love for the sprogs of the world than myself, but in my view it fails as a film with a message, it fails as a drama, and it even fails as an out an out horror film. For fellow fans of the banned and outrè I think you may be just as disappointed as me.
Film aside, this is another fine release from Dark Sky who I hope fill the hole left by No Shame in the Euro-cult market. The presentation of the main feature is in original aspect ratio and anamorphic, and the transfer is jolly good with the baking heat of the setting and the realistic look of the film represented well. The colour balance is generally excellent and the image is razor sharp, the original print has minor damage with specks and marks visible but this is well done if not superb.
The audio tracks are less impressive with some low rumbling on the Spanish track and distortion when music swells on both. The English track is not comprehensive and some scenes are presented in Spanish with English subs when the English dub is unavailable. The preferable way to listen to the film is still in the English as this is how the film was shot and the Spanish dubbing of the leads does not improve the acting any. The English subs provided are optional yellow which are error free and easy to read.
The disc comes in a clear DVD box which uses a photo from the film as the inside image with the cover art you see above as the exterior. The box includes the Dark Sky 2006 Catalog. In terms of special features, there are two interviews and a stills gallery which features poster art and lobby cards from around the world. The first interview is with Jose Luis Alcaine who was the DP on the film and explains his work on the movie in terms of seeking a realistic look which went against the grain of normal horror aesthetics, his appreciation of the director who he describes as a loss to cinema due to the amount of TV work he has done, and he also talks briefly about his work on Almodovar's films. The director himself is also interviewed and he answers honestly about topics like the male lead's performance, the newsreel montage at the beginning and wanting Anthony Hopkins for the film.
I really wanted this to be a better film, but even on the level of exploitation it doesn't quite work. If you disagree with my view you will find this a fine release but for once one of the treasure trove of banned films doesn't deserve its reputation.