To those that tell me ‘originality is dead’, I give you Children of the Night.
Great films can be like the sea – you can lie in the shallows and let them take you away to some other world, bobbing up and down on their own idiosyncratic currents. Children of the Night is most definitely a great film: one that shows a singular commitment to unique world-building, and fosters the awe of discovery in its enraptured audience. It is, most definitely, the biggest surprise of my Raindance viewings – and certainly the most positive.
Vincenzo Crea stars as Giulio, the wealthy son of a businesswoman sent to an Italian boarding school as a result of having a toxic personal cocktail: parental neglect and dangerous behaviour. It’s a secluded, regimented place where phones can only be used for a few hours a day, pupils are in extreme competition with one another, and hazing reaches peak levels of cruelty. Here, he makes friends with Edoardo, a loud, cool kid hailing from Berlin who teaches him how to be more assertive, fun-loving, and adventurous. Together, they discover a secret route out of the school’s compound that students can traverse without being caught – leading to a seedy nightlife paradise in the middle of the woods. All too soon however, both boys find themselves caught up in power-plays, conspiracy, and sinister spectral activity that suggests nothing is as it seems.
risky, unpredictable, and honest in ways that I didn’t expect
And there, above, is the key strength in Andrea De Sica’s movie: this story is absolute dynamite. As an audience, we have no idea where it will go. It starts reasonably familiar, wanders for a bit, then falls into a rabbit hole so deep that we don’t crash to the ground until two hours later when the credits roll. We’re enraptured, surprised, and delighted by the sheer inventiveness on display here. What is Children of the Night? Is it a coming of age film; or is it a drama; or is it a thriller; or is it a horror? Hell, maybe it’s even a comedy. This unwillingness to conform makes the final result paradoxically reflect the undefinable nature of life itself, even through its own pristine, Refn-esque artifice.
But as if this wasn’t already good enough, Children of the Night proceeds to layer on shades of Giallo and Italo-Disco like it’s nobody’s business. De Sica crafted much of the film’s music himself, using a synthesiser he bought specifically for the purpose. It absolutely smells like vintage Carpenter, and in all the right ways: beautifully tacky, head-bangingly catchy, and exuding a neon coolness that’s quite simply infectious. Other scenes are punctuated by sharp forays into modern Italo-Disco, and even at one point an Opera-esque flash of style that’s enough to send shivers down your spine because of sheer stylistic perfection and absurdity alone. Likewise, the lighting is consistently stunning: Wes Anderson pastels illuminated by blinding bright white during the day, and then the throbbing neon of vintage horror at night.
It’s an intoxicating, head-bobbing, ludicrous trip into a universe not so far gone from our own. In general, I dislike ‘coming of age’ movies. They’re overly saccharine, and usually petty predictable even if they think otherwise. This is the exact opposite of all those conventions: risky, unpredictable, and honest in ways that I didn’t expect; it’s also possessed of a particular mystery that fills the action with an ambiguous fog that keeps the audience from seeing what’s coming next; and, most importantly, it’s engaging. Despite the ludicrous conceits Children of the Night manages to find itself in, the action never strays far enough from reality that we lose contact with our main characters: it’s a stunning tour de force, demonstrating how the audience can be played like frogs in a pan of water: by the time we realise it’s boiling, it’s already too late.
checking this one out shouldn’t be a hard decision
There are, in the end, too many similarities to other works, particularly The Shining, for me to feel comfortable with slapping on a perfect 5. When Children of the Night begins, viewers may feel deep connections to Kubrickian symmetry. When they first see the boarding school, they may conclude it has shades of The Overlook Hotel. When they begin to work out what is happening to Giulio, they may conclude that it has similarities to what happened to Jack Torrance. And by the time our two heroes find an abandoned hallway in the roof, populated by memories of the past, it’s hard not to feel a little let down by the commitment to aping another film – as appropriate and stunning as that may be for the purposes of the story.
So yeah, I’m a hypocrite. To those that tell me ‘originality is dead’, I give you Children of the Night. However, I’m also docking a star from it on the basis that it’s too derivative. But, hey, life’s complicated; checking this one out shouldn’t be a hard decision.
Image: Andrea De Sica