Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Who Can Kill a Child?

As is clear from the title, this 1976 Horror film from Spain will not be to everybody's taste. Those who get past this initial hurdle will find themselves subjected to a long and horrific title sequence consisting of newsreel footage from the various horrors of twentieth century, holocaust, riots, famine, war etc showing children suffering, tortured, maimed and killed. I had convinced myself at that point that the film would be a fraud but ultimately it did manage to convince me of its sincerity and seriousness not long after. Many contemporary horror film makers also exploit real life horrors to justify depiction of torture and cruelty on screen (Abu Ghraib has become a familiar real life example) but watching the film itself shows how shameless and craven they are in exploiting those. I can't really pinpoint anything specific and in particular which makes Who Can Kill a Child? different and superior but I could sense a feeling of moral seriousness beneath the images of the film.

The effect of the title sequence remains with the viewer throughout the film and gives what follows a dark and despairing political subtext. The director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador in the interview says that it was his mistake to put the title sequence at the beginning and that he should have kept it for the end but personally I don't think it would have had the same effect as it does now. As the film starts we see a British couple vacationing in coastal Spain. The wife is in fact pregnant, in fact quite heavily so, which makes you wonder what they are really doing traipsing around so far away from home. (The pregnancy of course provides a horrific narrative payoff later in the film.) On their tourist excursion they find themselves on a small, remote island which initially seems to be eerily deserted with only unfriendly children and no adults in sight. They soon learn the horrific truth - children have had enough of the adult violence and it is now the payback time. I won't reveal what happens but it is quite violent (actually feels more violent than it actually is) and has a memorably bleak ending.

The look of the film is quite different from what one expects from a "horror" film - mainly because it is shot in blindingly shiny day light. The real locations are also very well exploited - there is something beautiful, bleak and eerie in that rural coastal landscape which contributes a lot to the resulting dread.

Pregnant women are advised to stay away and also those couples who are thinking about their decision to bring an innocent being into this violent and cruel world. Otherwise recommended to fans of serious and intelligent horror films. Guaranteed to leave you unsettled, even to give you a few nightmares.

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