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  • 15
  • Horror
  • 2006
  • 90 mins

Wicked Little Things

Wicked Little Things

Synopsis

Undead children take bloody revenge for past offences against minors. JS Cardone directs

About

Kids, eh? They can be so predictable. Put them in a romantic comedy, and they are bound to conform to that genre's construction of cute-as-a-button, which is to say precocious and annoying. Let them loose in a horror film, however, and their supposedly innate innocence is likely to get turned on its head, showing a more wicked streak that any parent will recognise.

Think the sociopathic aliens of Village Of The Damned (1960), the satanic spawn in The Omen (1976), the sickle-wielding hick-lets of Children Of The Corn (1984), the vicious psychotic projections of The Brood (1979), the ghostly pranksters of The Orphanage (2007) or even the candy-loving tearaways of Hostel (2005).

Now you can add the miner minors of JS Cardone's Wicked Little Things - aka Zombies - unrestful dead spirits of young children trapped in an underground explosion in 1913, and now haunting the surrounding woods, hungry for vengeance, not to mention for the flesh of anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path at night.

Recently widowed Karen Tunny (Heuring), her teenaged daughter Sarah (Taylor-Compton) and the much younger Emma (Moretz) seek refuge from debt in the Pennsylvania home that they have inherited from Karen's late husband. It is a creepy house in creepy woods with a creepy history attached to it, and a creepy neighbour (Cross) who wanders about outside with big jars full of blood - but despite the 'missing persons' posters all over the local store and warnings from everyone they meet not to venture outside at night, the Tunnys decide to make a go of it. "This is our home," Karen insists, "at least until I can figure out what to do with it."

Soon Sarah starts spending some time with locals her own age, much to Karen's delight - although she is more worried about Emma's developing relationship with new 'imaginary' friend Mary, who Emma claims wants to move out of the abandoned mine and back into her former home. The arrival on the scene of ruthless property developer William Carlton (McDougall), sole surviving descendant of the mine's one-time owner, brings matters to a bloody head, as a pick-wielding pack of children closes in for some belated pay-back.

A haunted house, an abandoned mine, bad blood, the unquiet dead, ghostly playmates, lighting fixtures that never seem to work properly, old-timers who ask strangers, "What you're doing up in these hills?", cars that won't start when you need them to, people who trip over as they're being chased, and of course those sinister children - yup, Cardone's film mines deep into the reservoir of hoary old horror cliches and hits the mother lode, offering little that will not be anticipated by anyone who is even only slightly acquainted with the genre - or at least who has seen a couple of episodes of 'Scooby Doo'.

The few surprises the film does have just about save it from backshelf oblivion. Without exception, the cast is excellent, making the characters seem believable no matter how unbelievable their circumstances. The relationship between Karen and her two daughters, rooted in the dysfunction of collective loss, is drawn with particular subtlety and more than capably performed - and Karen's refusal to leave Emma behind at any cost offers a neat counterpoint to the treatment of the similarly aged Mary nearly a century earlier.

The sets and cinematography are chillingly effective. Even the title will wrongfoot viewers looking for conventional cinematic zombies - for while these juvenile undead do have a habit of devouring their prey, few other on-screen zombies come out only at night, have a strong sense of kinship and cannot be stopped even by a bullet to the head. Seeking not only satisfaction for a historical crime, but also a nice place to rest undisturbed, these zombies by name are more like ghosts by nature.

Much as the film's vengeful little 'uns occupy a grey zone somewhere between the living and the dead, the biggest problem with Wicked Little Things is its lack of a precisely defined identity. It is not quite visceral enough for hardened gorehounds, it is not scary or twisty enough for ghost story aficionados - and it is not original enough for anyone else.

Worst of all, its ending plays out like a missed opportunity - an arbitrary-seeming resolution to a film whose own internal logic could have delivered a far darker moral on the self-perpetuating nature of blood feuds. All of which is a pity, because viewed purely in technical terms, Zombies has much to recommend it.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Craig Vye, Ben Cross, Lori Heuring, Scout Taylor-Compton, Julie Rogers, Geoffrey Lewis, Michael McCoy, Chloe Moretz, Chris Jamba, Martin McDougall
  • Director: JS Cardone
  • Screen Writer: Boaz Davidson
  • Writer (Story): Ben Nedivi
  • Producer: Anton Hoeger, David Varod, Boaz Davidson, Danny Lerner, JS Cardone
  • Photographer: Emil Topuzov
  • Composer: Tim Jones

In a nutshell

Neither this nor that, Zombies offers up a creaky old forest-load of horror cliches but never quite sees the wood for the trees.

by Anton Bitel

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