“Nothing ever really dies in the corn.”
Four decades after Fritz Kiersch’s Children of the Corn (based on the short story by Stephen King), and He Who Walks Behind the Rows still refuses to become fertilizer. A few (failed) attempts have been planted in hopes of resurrecting the franchise, and now the latest has arrived from writer/director Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium) in Children of the Corn, which veers further away from the original tale than any iteration has.
In this latest adaptation, we move on from the town of Gatlin to Rhylstone, home of the “happiest corn in Nebraska”. When a teen at a foster home goes mad and slaughters all of the adults, the police gas the place, killing all of the kids except Eden (Kate Moyer). Already on the brink of crumbling, the town takes a turn for the worse when the adults decide to take the money and run by selling their suffering crops to Big Farming. Teen Bo (Elena Kampouris) concocts a plan to save the town and convince the adults to change their minds, but what she doesn’t count on are Eden and the other kids having a deadly plan of their own, one inspired by a spirit of the corn dubbed He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
With this being the eleventh Children film, there isn’t much left to squeeze out of this corncob of a franchise, yet Wimmer’s Children of the Corn at least tries with a new take on the story that goes back to the beginning. Instead of an unlucky couple happening upon the town post-carnage, we get a look at the fall of Rhylstone from a unique perspective on the inside; That of Bo, on the brink of becoming an adult, but still young enough to not be an immediate target of the children. Through her, Wimmer allows the audience to see this story more from the kid point of view. Between an alcoholic father and a cheating mother, Wimmer’s film paints the adults in the poorest of lights…to an extent that the script is exhausting with the melodramatics. Everywhere you look in Rhylstone, adults are shouting, shoving, abusing and outright laughing at the kids. Emotions are forced to an extreme high, often undercutting believability.
Moyer does a solid job in the role of Eden, the leader of these tiny cultists who are sick of the adult’s shit. It’s impossible to top John Franklin’s portrayal of Isaac from the original, but Moyer turns in an admiral attempt. She’s creepy. She’s calculating. And most importantly, she brings an empathy to these kids that hasn’t always been present in the Children films. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still violent little monsters, but you feel for them to an extent, even if they are gutting every adult in site. Wimmer’s Children plays like an interpretation of this generation’s failure to protect the next from Global Warming, with the kid’s taking on a more environmentalist attitude as opposed to anything religious in nature like the other films. Bo's stuck in the middle, inactive observance erases much of the potential tension, however.
Washed in dirty tones that inspire thoughts of grimy soil, Children of the Corn is a grim film that isn’t afraid to get graphic with its violence. While I wouldn’t say this interpretation is more realistic than others—we get a look at an awful CG He Who Walks Behind the Rows, for instance—it does come off as less of a popcorn movie, which is a plus or minus depending on where you fall (a big minus for me). You won’t find glowing red blobs, death by way of flying cornstalks or Courtney Gains screaming “Outlander” over and over again. What is here is a less entertaining though vicious brutality and the occasional grimacing moment of gore.
All of the above is interesting, but this Children of the Corn withers from kernels of good ideas that needed more time in the microwave. Taking a cue from Children of the Corn II, there are mentions of a corn fungus that could cause madness, but the thought fails to work its way much into the script (almost nothing gets proper development). Character relationships are also vague at best. Bo’s connection with her family is meant to play a substantial role, for instance, but they hardly interact enough for their relationships to be defined beyond surface level interpretations. The seeds planted in Children of the Corn simply struggle to grow into anything meaningful, vital for a film that relies more on dramatics than goofy fun.
With little new to offer, Wimmer’s Children of the Corn probably won’t appeal much to hardcore Cornheads and falls way short of giving audiences a reason to continue walking with He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Give it this though, it delivers on the one thing it promises; Creepy kids proving once again why you shouldn’t mess with the younger generation.
Children of the Corn arrives in theaters on March 3rd and on VOD March 21st from RLJE Films.
By Matt Konopka