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If you think the title of the new horror film There's Something Wrong with the Children sort of gives the vibe of the movie away, don't worry. That's exactly what director Roxanne Benjamin wanted. The filmmaker behind projects like Body at Brighton Rock fought for the film's final title, not just because it sounded good, but because she wanted to make a promise to the audience which also bought her some storytelling time.
"I fought for that title once the script had been changed so much, because I feel like it gives you some wiggle room in taking some extra time in the first act to lay out the relationships, and there's not a lot going on horror-wise," Benjamin told SYFY WIRE. "It's not the first 10 minutes in, you're getting jump scares or anything like that. It gives you, I think, more leeway with horror fans because they know you're getting there."
The latest release from Blumhouse Television as part of a series of films which will stream on MGM+ (formerly EPIX), There's Something Wrong with the Children builds tension early by establishing two very different family dynamics, placing them together in the same environment, and then introducing a supernatural element that not everyone believes at first. In order to make that work, Benjamin's rewrites of the original script by T.J. Cimfel and David White placed more emphasis on the characters at the core of the story: Couples Margaret (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gilford), and Ellie (Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Carlos Santos).
"The relationship between Margaret and Ellie was something I really wanted to put to the forefront because it was really important to me that that was part of the dynamic that we were seeing in this kids versus no kids couples, of how those relationships change between two very close friends that are growing apart," Benjamin explained. "And there might be some resentment there on both sides because of that. And I felt like what I wanted them to have too was a relationship like sisters, where you can just say the worst s*** to each other, but then 10 minutes later it's fine. And then it's like, 'What's the point that you can't come back from, and how do you build that into the story?'"
The film picks up the relationship between these four adults as they head off for a weekend in the woods together, along with Ellie and Thomas' two children Lucy (Briella Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattle). Everything starts just fine, but when Ben suggests the group head out on a hike together, and they stumble across a ruined building dominated by a mysterious, almost bottomless pit, something begins to happen to Lucy and Spencer. When Ben and Margaret, who are still debating whether they want kids of their own, agree to watch the kids for the night, strange things start to happen, building tension between the two couples even as the children themselves begin to act out in ways that seemingly only Ben can really see.
The tension between couples who lead very different lives and what happens when one couple's children start to behave strangely creates an interesting, single-location powder keg that carries the film and infuses nearly every scene with a certain dread even before the kids get particularly creepy. Throw in Guiza and Mattle themselves, and you've got a driving, entertaining horror story that treats the creepy kids trope in its own particular way.
"With both of them, they just had such a sense of poise and menace," Benjamin said of her two young actors. "A lot of the kids, I think, could really get the fun sides of it and just the regular type scenes. But the intensity that these two had, I thought was really good. And I thought they would play really well as a brother and sister, and so we had a couple callbacks with them and a lot of it was just kind of chatting with them and getting to know them a little bit and seeing what their personalities were. I think we really lucked out there because they are both so good in the movie at bringing the menace."
But creepy kids themselves aren't the only focus of tension and dread in the film. There's also a character-focused tension the two adult couples at the heart of the story, the fight for understanding once the supernatural elements kick in, and an overall sense of mystery that grips the entire film. Throw in a Stephen King-influenced, throwback-heavy vibe that kicks in with the opening titles, and you've got a distinctive, engaging horror picture.
"I feel like that's my general vibe," Benjamin said. "I like this retro throwback stuff that isn't necessarily quite '80s so much as it's more leaning into '90s pulp or '70s pulp. And it's also very heavily, I think, Stephen King influenced, obviously outside of the Pet Sematary 2 movie vibe of it. His work in general that has so much to do with relationships and this kind of [character-focused horror]."
And then, of course, it all comes back to that title. For Benjamin, There's Something Wrong with the Children was never a film where the horror lay in if something would happen, but how that thing would happen.
"When that's the title, you know what kind of movie you're in for," she said. "So it's like 'We're not trying to fix the kids, we just know the kids are going evil at some point.' So how we're going to get there, and what are they going to do when they [turn] is more the fun part to me than, 'Oh, are they or aren't they?' That's kind of just the trophy stuff that you can throw in. But the more fun part is just what happens because of it, not the why."
Thee's Something Wrong with the Children is available digitally and on-demand Tuesday, and arrives on MGM+ March 17.
Looking for more Blumhouse horror? Check out Blumhouse's hit horror film M3GAN in theaters now.