Horror’s least essential franchise churns out another one, this time with a limp environmentalism angle.
Just as no one ever claims that Millard Fillmore was our greatest President, or that Atlantic City is superior to Las Vegas, you’re not likely to ever encounter anyone who names Children of the Corn as the best horror franchise. Yet, an astonishing 11 movies, most of them barely connected to the 20 page Stephen King short story of the same name, have been released (the majority direct to video or streaming), each one cheaper and duller than the last. As opposed to Halloween or Friday the 13th, it can’t even be said that the original is good. At best, it has its moments, thanks entirely to teen antagonists Isaac and Malachi, who at least give it some creepy juice. Even then, Isaac returning in the sixth movie (creatively titled Isaac’s Return) couldn’t save this series from being dead in the water from nearly the beginning.
But god bless, they’re gonna keep trying. The latest is just called Children of the Corn, and lest you think its lacking a silly subtitle like Urban Harvest or Fields of Terror means it’s any better than those that came before it, it is not. Directed by Kurt Wimmer, it is, yet again, a lazy, indifferent attempt to merge folk horror and killer kids that offers no scares, no laughs, and no fun. That it reportedly cost $10 million to make should send the viewer into a fit of rage, but all that can be mustered is an exhausted sigh.
The film opens in tiny, miserable Rylstone, Nebraska, a town on the edge of collapse. A teenage boy murders an adult and hides himself inside a youth home. When the police opt to pump the house full of poisonous gas (!!) to drive him out, they accidentally kill a handful of children inside, an event about which the adults in town are mildly put out at best. The boy’s preteen sister, Eden (Kate Moyer), is either traumatized by the event, or possessed by a malevolent being referred to as “He Who Walks.” If you’re not sure, that’s okay, because the script isn’t either.
Either way, she turns into another tiresome horror movie evil kid, talking like someone twice her age (but dressed like she stepped out of a Bobbsey Twins book), and with a Bond villain head for coming up with malevolent schemes. Eden quickly becomes a cult leader of sorts to the other children in town, hatching a plan to murder all the adults to stop them from destroying what’s left of their fungus-ridden corn crops and moving away with the government subsidies earned from it. There’s a reason for all this, but it’s dumb and not worth mentioning.
The sole voice of reason and good in all this is teenager Boleyn (Elena Kampsouris), who’s also eager to leave town but doesn’t want to see it go under, let alone anyone killed over it. You might be reading this and thinking “I don’t come to a Children of the Corn movie for heated discussions about corn subsidies, I want to see kids chasing after people with rusty farm equipment.” Well, you do get that, but it comes with a cost, and that cost is a limp attempt at an allegory about the current heated battle between younger generations and their elders over climate change. That there is actually a supernatural figure maybe (?) orchestrating all of this is the only thread tying this very literal interpretation to the original movie.
Wimmer’s script tries to slyly play it both ways, depicting Eden as a megalomaniacal villain (call her “Dark Greta,” if you will) who uses her desire to save Rylstone’s farmland as an excuse to exact violence and chaos. But at the same time, unlike earlier iterations of the series, where the adults are innocent victims of religious mania, here they’re all richly deserving of their brutal deaths. Vaguely suggesting that the fungus killing the corn has also infected the townspeople (but not in a cool and gross way like The Last of Us), nearly all the adults here (particularly the men) come off as comic book villains (or worse), leering and sneering at the town’s children for daring to protest the destruction of the only town they’ve ever known. The sole character worth rooting for is Boleyn, and even she isn’t so much a character as an exposition machine.
Because I am nothing if not benevolent, I will say that at least Moyer seems to be having a good time as Eden, even though Eden is a character we’ve seen in everything from The Bad Seed to Orphan (though Children of the Corn wishes it had a twist as out there as Orphan does). She gives things a much-needed jolt of hammy life, when the rest of it, right down to the brownish-yellow lens filter, is drab and tired. Unlike Isaac in the original, however, who was frightening because he was a true believer, we really don’t know what Eden’s deal is – either she’s just ordering other kids to kill because she’s insane, or because she too is a tool of “He Who Walks” (who appears on screen far too many times for such shabbily executed CGI).
Wimmer doesn’t want to say either way, ultimately to the film’s detriment. Far be it from me to say that a Children of the Corn movie would benefit from a clear point of view, but that’s never stopped anyone else from making one, nor will it stop anyone from making more.
Children of the Corn is now available on Shudder, so, you know, whatever.