A couple of English tourists arrive on an island where all the children have gone crazy and are murdering the adults
It’s always been kind of a joke in reference to not only horror movies, but mainstream cinema in general: no matter what, you pretty much always know there will be two survivors at the end: the kid, and the dog. That little kid will be scared half to death, haunted, chased, and tormented for 90+ minutes, but in the end, aside from the hefty psychiatrist bills, they almost always come out of it alive. Same with the dog – and it is specifically the dog, as cats will be killed and rabbits will be boiled and birds will be slaughtered – while Fido or Rover might disappear early on, even in a scenario where it’s almost impossible that they will have survived, sure enough, that last reel will include the safe return of man’s best friend. It’s no doubt thanks to this seemingly unbreakable taboo that we have more and more movies where the evil is the kid; how do you fight back against the epitome of innocence, that being a child? It is this question that lends itself to one of the more intriguing titles around, Who Can Kill a Child?
Based on the novel by Juan Jose Plans, writer/director Narciso Ibanez Serrador (most of his work has been for the small screen, but he also wrote and directed The House That Screamed) brings us a story that is sure to provoke conversation. We open on the beaches of Benavis, Spain, as a young girl’s body washes to shore, all signs pointing to her having been stabbed to death. At the same time, English tourists Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant wife, Evelyn (Prunella Ransome), arrive by bus on vacation, en route to the island of Almanzora. When they arrive on the island, aside from a few kids fishing along the dock, it appears deserted. The couple begins wandering around town, checking out the local businesses, but find all of them empty as well. The tension builds as the audience wonders right along with the protagonists where everyone has gone, until we finally see another adult, an old man walking down the street with a cane, and we realize we’re about to get some answers. Unfortunately, they are not the kind we hoped for, but more the kind we feared.
There is a very strong underlying message in Who Can Kill a Child?, and the director not only doesn’t try to hide it, but puts it right up front. While the story begins at the beach, the movie opens with documentary footage of war: World War 2, India vs Pakistan, the Korean War, Vietnam, Biafra. With each war, we are given the statistics of how many people were killed, and how many of those were children. The numbers are beyond horrifying. So, while the title of the film asks the audience one question, the story itself asks another – can we blame children for becoming violent, when the example we’ve given them is a violent one?
Who Can Kill a Child? is a well-executed, suspenseful film from beginning to tragic end. It builds slowly and steadily, giving us just as much information and just as many hints as Tom and Evelyn have so that we’re all on the same page. The fact that our tourists don’t speak the native language – at least Evelyn doesn’t; Tom seems to know just enough to get by in most cases – only adds to the alien feeling of being in a remote, secluded place far from home. Once we figure out what is happening on the island, a sense of panic and fear for our wellbeing is added to the overall mood. All this to say, the tension and mystery of this film begins strong and keeps building, contributing to a thought-provoking, terror-filled experience.
Where a lot of horror films need to rely on blood and gore to keep their audience interested, Serrador’s film is able to simply tell a good story, one that grabs emotions without trying too hard and brings folks to the edge of their seats. The main actors do a great job selling their fear and confusion, while the kids (and there are a lot of them) simply have to exist and laugh at the right moments to keep things upsetting. There is a particularly effective moment around the midway point when Tom and Evelyn come across a scared local, and he all but makes the whole movie when he tells how everything came to be. And while it appears that the story was re-filmed in 2012 under the title Come Out and Play, Who Can Kill a Child? stands as a movie that still works, 40 years later. It’s unsettling, it’s intense, and it’s a must-see film for any thriller/horror fan.