Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador | 106 minutes | horror | Actors: Lewis Flander, Prunella Ransome
Child-like innocence has to be one of the last taboos left in the film world. Although there are certainly films that have broken this innocence, they almost always generate controversy. After all, children are holy and capable of no harm, because they live in a fairytale-like world where nothing but good happens. A world that is also lovingly protected by adults.
How sobering then is the beginning of “Who Can Kill a Child?” This immediately confronts the viewer with some gruesome documentary images, showing wars in which children have been massacred. In a sequence of just a few minutes you get to choose the Holocaust, the Indian-Pakistani War and the Vietnam War and then the rest of the film has yet to begin. Yet these gruesome images do not only serve to shock the viewer. They also provide a context within which the rest of the movie should be viewed.
“Who Can Kill a Child” tells the story of the couple Tom and Evelyn who are trapped on an island where only children live, who have killed all adults. “No normal child would do such a thing,” says Tom in the end, but with the documentary footage in mind, you wonder why not. Not only do the children have every reason to be angry with the bellicose adults, the whole idea of innocent childhood is disappearing like snow in the sun. After all, how can you expect children to experience a normal, innocent childhood, when all the examples that adults give them are at odds with this and when those same adults are also not at all willing to protect childish innocence?
It is a confronting theme, but fortunately Serrador does not impose it too much on the viewer. The documentary images with which the film starts are intense and ensure that the message does not escape you, but “Who Can Kill a Child?” Is also just a very exciting horror film. The inexperienced Serrador (he only made two cinema films) shows a great talent for atmospheric tension building and he knows how to captivate the viewer for more than an hour and a half with almost nothing. Moreover, he resists the temptation to explain too much, so that the viewer never gets to know what exactly is going on with the children of the island. The harder the mysterious events hit.
The result is a film that is entertaining and shocking at the same time. Entertaining, because the film has a haunting atmosphere and enough mystery to distance yourself from the events on the screen. However, the film is shocking when the main characters are indeed faced with the question of whether they will be able to kill a child if they want to leave the island alive. Here too Serrador shows himself to be a master of suggestion. Despite the diabolical dilemma facing the main characters, Serrador never uses this for cheap exploitation. Most of the murder and manslaughter in this film takes place out of view of the viewer, making the scenes linger all the more. An absolute must for any 70s horror fan and a good reminder that horror is not (always) about gallons of fake blood and rubber guts, but first of all about excitement and the power of suggestion.