Sunday 4 January 2015

Beware of Children! (2013)

Director: Ares Ceylan
Stars: Oriana Schrage, Aaron Hitz and Manfred Liechti
This film was an official selection at the 10th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
This short thriller from Switzerland is a glorious riff on fear and it's a perfect horror movie for new parents because everything in it revolves around children. The launching point for the story is a roadsign, which I presume is a standard Swiss sight, reading 'Schulanfang, Achtung Kinder!', the native title of this picture, which can be roughly translated as 'Back to School, Beware of Children', hence the English language title. The point of course is that while drivers are supposed to watch out for the safety of children returning to school, it could easily be interpreted as a need for drivers to watch out for their own safety because kids are dangerous. In this film, both takes are true. In fact, we need to pay close attention to many things in this film for similar reasons. While the subtitles aren't pristine, many of what we might believe are errors are actually examples of clever writing, right down to the choice of pronouns and use of phrases mostly known for other circumstances; they apply here too but also raise parallels.

We follow Nadja and Sebastian, a young couple who are driving to a party at her mother's but who have found themselves lost. Nadja is clearly distracted and her lines, which are almost entirely about children, suggest why. It's when she hits Seb with 'What do you think about children?' that he hits one, a little boy on a scooter who comes so out of nowhere that we don't see him either until they stop and find his body sprawled on the road behind their car. Of course, the 'Schulanfang, Achtung Kinder!' roadsign wasn't far behind and we soon discover the double meanings. As Seb leans over the body to see if the boy is alive, a strange man who looks rather like Clint Howard warns him that it could be a trap. This distraction costs him two fingers as the boy leans up and bites them off and this only begins their troubles, as the boy is not alone and it doesn't take long for his friends to start walking towards Nadja and Sebastian in waves, penning them in and brandishing otherwise innocuous items as weapons.

The cast are decent, Oriana Schrage capable in a deceptively deep role as Nadja and Aaron Hitz backing her up well. However it's the setting that shines brightest here, the relentlessly clean Swiss landscape of family houses, empty streets and spotless playgrounds, especially once filled with a herd of children, to use the word which the strange man uses in warning. The children don't attempt to act sinister, like the kids in demonic possession movies; they just don't move how we might expect them to move, standing there for the most part and asking us to ponder on those double meanings. This could have become the landlocked equivalent of Lord of the Flies and I'm sure there's modern Swiss social commentary that I'm unequipped to notice but mostly it's a musing on the generation gap. The key player here isn't a child in pastel colours with a flair for violence, it's Nadja. This entire film could easily take place inside her head, as she ponders her future, and we can't help but remember that she's someone's child too.

Beware of Children! can be viewed for free on Vimeo.

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