Review of the Latest ‘Children of the Corn’ Sequel/Reboot: No Trace of Fear in This Film
Like a virus that keeps coming back but getting weaker each time, Children of the Corn is now a horror movie that doesn’t have the power to infect you with even a twinge of fear. The original strain of the virus was Stephen King’s short story — published in 1977, at the heart of its creepy heyday. The story of a group of Nebraska farm kids who worship a demon that lives in the local cornfields, it felt like an elegant version of “Lord of the Flies,” with a hint of the creepiness of “The Wicker Man.” The children were killing the adults around them, but the scariest thing about them is that they would become a cult. The corn demon, known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows, was less a monster than a force that spoke to the gathering forces in our society—impulses of religious zeal and intolerance that began to take shape in the late 70s.
The new ‘Children of the Corn’ is the 11th film to come out of King’s history. The best known is the 1984 big screen version, although there were eight sequels (what, you didn’t know about “Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest”? “Children of the Corn 666: The Return of Isaac”?) and the imagery has been referenced by everything from “South Park” to Eminem to Kendrick Lamar to “Wreck-It Ralph.”
The new version is technically a prequel, though all that really means is that the heart of King’s story has now been ripped out and set aside. Early on, a brooding teenager grabs a knife and breaks into Rylestone Children’s Home, where he kills every adult he sees. Seeing this as a hostage situation, local farmers attach a hose to the building and use it to spray the cow anesthetic Halathane, which kills 15 children. That they would do that makes no sense. And nothing in the movie makes sense.
The children of the town, now led by Eden (Kate Moyer), a survivor of the Children’s Home massacre, want to exact their revenge. But the film’s writer-director Kurt Wimmer also introduces a half-baked theme of “environmentalism,” as the kids fight to save corn crops poisoned by toxic chemicals. Well, they are environmental activists… er, monster kids. If the movie really wanted to be relevant, it could have played up the issue of how much of the corn grown in the United States is now GMO. Instead, it updates King’s premise from the 70s into a murky vague horror ruin zone with a social conscience of the 80s. The other big change is that He Who Walks Behind the Rows now actually is a creature, a looming spectral menace made of green tendrils with a mouth that, if you get close enough, looks like a cob version of Alien.
Eden, the child cult leader with her braided pigtails, looks like Drew Barrymore in “Firestarter” crossed with the demon child from the “Orphan” movies. It’s not Kate Moyer’s fault that she plays her with a smile one would expect to encounter at an early script reading. so is this production prosaic and suspect. The best actress of the film is Elena Kambouri. As teenage Bo, the one child left normal, she maintains a chilling relatability without succumbing to scream-queen clichés. The adults are mostly rednecks in the cartoon, with Bruce Spence (yes, from “The Road Warrior”) standing out as a perverted priest. The narrative is sketchy and fragmented, the visual tone overly bright but uncertain. At one point the children are standing in a giant hole, dug to bury the adults alive. They paint the roots of corn with blood sacrificed by a dripping animal, and do so with the conscientious disgust of children on a school trip. The blood looks like it’s made of high-fructose corn syrup — which, in “Children of the Corn,” might be an extreme case of horror turning into its own derivative.