Dare your subconscious to concoct some homebrew version of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and ÊTRE ET AVOIR. Perfect the recipe and you might ferment something broadly in the same appellation as CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT. Director Ivan Noel somehow manages to bottle eternal childlike vampires with the idylls of a rural education, an electronica soundtrack and ritual catholic imagery to boot.
Buenos Aires reporter Alicia responds to an invitation to visit a far flung children’s home. She finds a colony called Limbo, run by the slug-like Erda. The crucifix-dangling matron has a habit of laughing maniacally and stopping sharply, with eyes glaring. The children seem wise beyond their years. They make inappropriate comments about Alicia’s appearance, and possess sommelier level knowledge on vintage wines. They suffer from a ‘Hungarian strain’ of some barely known malady that makes them severely photosensitive… and, yes, they are vampires.
The tragedy here is that of vampire children in books (and subsequent films) like INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Human children become vampires only to discover that they are physically stranded as juniors. Their minds develop but their bodies remain infantile. Social interaction stays framed in these terms.
Yet Noel sees hope where Anne Rice and Tomas Alfredson dwell on calamity. When Alicia first meets the kids they are playing. They mess about, congregate and tease each other like all children. Except it is at night. All dressed in white, the children glimmer in the gloom like fireflies. The scenario is unnerving, but the monsters possess a certain innocence. Later, when Alicia discovers their secret, she questions them as a class about how their condition actually feels. Scenes like these feel dementedly close to Nicolas Philibert’s documentary ÊTRE ET AVOIR, about a remote school with its saintly teacher. Noel approaches what it might mean to be immortal in a child’s body from a child’s perspective. It doesn’t seem all that bad. Conversely, Rice and Alfredson tackle this from an adult’s perspective and frame the condition as incarceration.
Noel’s take on immortality for minors creates something chilling and novel: horrific bemusement.
Away from the central theme, CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT swings wildly in tone. At first the intrigue of the setting builds towards the convention trappings of a rural horror with kids like THE DEVIL’S LABYRINTH. Not quite horrific the film saturates itself with unease as the odd aspects Erda’s sanctuary build. Then as Alicia discovers and accepts the situation it becomes more like LET THE RIGHT ONE IN with its own wildly violent finale. Yet Noel also wedges in farce, vampire politics, stake-wielding adversaries, relationship dilemmas, hemophilia and more.
The humour sort of makes sense given the child’s eye approach to the dynamic. One minute you’re not sure whether Erda is about to feed Alicia to her charges. The next she’s explaining why one teenage vampire is so grumpy: she was ‘turned’ midway through her acne phase and is now stuck with them for ever! Ditto a wanking gag with blood swapped for semen stains. Unfortunately, the vampire politics muddy the waters, with unnecessary links to Dracula and Bram Stoker. Having a band of vampire hunters picking off the stragglers at the children’s home makes sense for the drama but, again, links to a backstory struggle to seem worthwhile.
Ignore the ideas that misfire though. Noel’s take on immortality for minors, and his repeated imagery of luminescent children taking playtime at midnight create something chilling and novel: horrific bemusement. Black humour and gore hold a long association in works like THE EVIL DEAD or the dinner scene in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Here it is more innocent with equally brutal violence when it erupts. Don’t play tag with this lot.
CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT screens on 7 September at 21.15 at the Light Cinema