Director: Wolf Rilla | 77 minutes | science fiction, horror | Actors: George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Martin Stephens, Michael Gwynn, Laurence Naismith, Richard Warner, Jenny Laird, Sarah Long, Thomas Heathcote, Charlotte Mitchell, Pamela Buck, Rosamund Greenwood, Susan Richards
Although this black and white film (1960) is often placed in the horror category, it is more of a science fiction thriller. The film should not rely on gory scenes, but the tension consists of constantly raising questions among the viewer. These questions are: where do the children come from? What unscrupulous acts are they (further) capable of? How long will they be protected (yet)? And how will the children eventually be stopped?
The two main characters in the movie are Gordon and David Zellaby. Gordon Zellaby is the scientist who seems infected by the numbness of the children. In his science obsession, he brushes aside all deadly events as acceptable for the benefit of science. He even does this even when the children have committed a murder of which he himself witnessed (you see David as another Einstein…, ..potentially greater!).
David (Martin Stephens) is the leader of the alien children and also pretty much the only one to speak. The other children differ in almost nothing from each other, play no conspicuous role and remain fairly underexposed. It does become clear that they are extraterrestrial and have no emotions. This is expressed in addition to their atrocities by not responding to signs of affection. The mystery of their origin is not solved, but only partly reasoned.
Much of the film deals with the development that Gordon and David’s characters may or may not undergo. The questions raised by the viewer are related to the interaction of these two characters with each other. Gordon lingers for a long time in trying to teach the children values and norms and to hear about their gifts and plans. David seems most sympathetic and reasonable in talking partially about this to Gordon. It soon becomes clear that his sympathy is only apparent. He usually takes the lead in committing yet another murder and his happy smile after several murders speaks volumes. When he finally threatens Gordon in covert terms, it is clear that he too is emotionless and capable of anything. When action is eventually taken against the children, this does not arouse any pity from the viewer. There is only relief that the threat of further catastrophes has been lifted, and satisfaction that the aliens have finally gotten their comeuppance.
The villagers’ reactions are of the classic kind. First, there are several attempts by individual villagers to kill the children. When this fails, a furious mass attempt to destroy the children by fire takes place.
The location, a fairly remote and more or less self-contained village, is well chosen. How long would such children with their atrocities be tolerated in a busy city? The remoteness of the village helps to keep the children under protection for a long time without drawing too much attention from the public and the media. On the other hand, it also becomes clear that when they are finally acted upon, it is almost too late. This also raises the question of how long and to what extent, in the name of science, the village should have been allowed to be disrupted to such an extent.
Despite the tension, there are a few question marks behind the story. When the children can transfer knowledge to each other telepathically (..wheres my Philip? Youre always all together …, ..its his time to study … hes at your home ..), it is strange that later on they are all in a classroom sit where they get the same lesson.
The children also want to spread across the earth by means of colonies. Given their intelligence, they must realize that they can then keep quiet for the time being to avoid unwanted attention and problems. However, they murder seemingly arbitrarily from the start and at the very least, even openly. They also consciously make statements that show that they are different: .. we are now the only ones left and you must learn that we are determined to survive., If you didnt suffer from emotions, from feelings, you could be as powerful as we are. They have apparently telepathically learned of the fate that has befallen the other alien children. However, this is not a warning to them to be cautious and therefore to run less risk. But if they did, we’d have this movie again not had.
All in all, a very strong thriller. The questions that haunt the mind of the viewer are the following: what is the next atrocity of the children? What are the reactions of the angry villagers to it? And how will the children eventually be stopped? The curiosity for the answer to these questions will constantly keep the viewer’s attention.