August 10, 2005

Children of the Damned

Children of the Damned is a classic Cold War parable, as campy as can be in the handling of the horror elements but something rather deeper in idea. It is the rare horror film that sympathizes with its monsters and understands that only the world in which they exist makes them monsters at all.
The beginning of the film — and the title — appear to make it clear that Paul and his international compatriots are the offspring of Satan; some evil and unnatural creation who are wont to stir evil throughout the world. The two investigators — a psychologist and a geneticist — take a neutral view at first, but the movie seemingly has them marked.
The final shot of the film is of a screwdriver lying amongst the rubble of the final confrontation. Like many lesser films of the era, it's condemnation of Cold War policies and fears becomes slowly overbearing. Still, moments of brilliance seep in.
The first time I began to shift my allegiance towards the six prodigies was when the little Asian prodigy admitted her fears to the aunt. Even as they control the events around them with despicable certainly, the unemotional little child admitting the group's fears to Paul's aunt was more affecting than it had any right to be.
As the psychologist slowly penetrates what's going on inside the hearts and minds of these seemingly soulless creatures, the human governments and the fearful geneticist become more and more radicalized against them. By the end of the film I compared the transgressions of the prodigies and the transgressions of the humans, the humans did not come across favourably.
We've seen this story before, and in better wrapping, but never was it approached so warily. If the filmmakers saw things from the prodigies' point of view, we would sympathize with them from the beginning. If the filmmakers saw things from the humans' point of view, their actions would be unforgivable, their motivations utterly beyond understanding. Either way, falling into the trap of trying to create characters much smarter than either the filmmakers or the audience and winding up with a stilted conceit is unavoidable. Still, the conflict is engagingly drawn. It is rare that such a film takes the time to make me to see things from both sides; only by arguing with itself a bit can a "message" film be anything approaching relevant. ()

  - ADAM LENHARDT

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