This is a review for the Region 1 (U.S Import) DVD of the 2016, Horror/Thriller film “Child Eater”, Written and Directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen. Child Eater is set in a lakeside community with a violent history. 25 years ago, a delusional sadist by the name of Robert Bowery (played by Jason Martin) became convinced he needed others eyes in order to prevent himself from going blind, so he took them. Fast forward to present day and Helen Connolly (Cait Bliss), a local working two jobs while at a crossroads in her life, takes a babysitting gig in a home she knows all too well. Young, Lucas Parker (played by Colin Critchley) is convinced that Bowery is back to haunt the town once again, and it’s up to Helen and her friend, Casey (Brandon Smalls), along with her father and town Sheriff (played James Wilcox) to stop the Child Eater once and for all. The film also stars Dave Klasko, Melinda Chilton, Andrew Kaempfer and Weston Wilson.
Much like a lot of horror films that have gone on to have success, Erlingur’s debut feature-length film was initially conceived as a 15 minute short, made back in 2012. Despite Child Eater containing some on-screen violence and a “Freddy Krueger” like antagonist, it’s most definitely a slow-burn atmospheric style horror film rather than the slasher film of which the aforementioned resided among. I think the premise is an interesting one and the run time is a brisk 80 minutes (including credits), any longer and it may have started to wear out its welcome. The production design and management deserve plenty of credit for finding this heavily wooded forest area that lends itself perfectly to the cinematic scope. The thin flaking trees, the makeshift decking, and even the way the daytime scenes are color graded can be likened to something like Shyamalan’s criminally underrated “The Village”. Young cinematographer, John Carey implements a series of nice establishing shots to help set the scene. The empty woods linger in the frame, there’s wide shots of the home in question as well as a few nicely executed tracking shots. All the framing looks great and most of the films desired suspense is generated through some superb backlighting. A number of scenes are laced with fog and the faint light permeating through the building majority of the film takes place in, looks fantastic. The sequence in the Parker’s home where Lucas goes through the walls in the basement is perhaps the best scene in the film. The Child Eater has a number of memorable moments too.
The audio track is crisp and clear and Einar Tryggvason’s score is an appropriately moody one. There’s some lovely violin and cello themes that open proceedings, and later, bass and keyboard become the driving force of the film when the Child Eater goes all out to obtain that which he desires. Some may find it a little generic but there’s an 8 note piano motif that’s really unsettling, it plays while Helen and ex-boyfriend, Tom (Klasko) go looking for Lucas (listen for it). The cast’s levels of experience varies, so I was surprised that so many of the performances came off as natural as they did. I think emotionally speaking, Bliss is given the bulk of the weight to carry and she does a really nice job with it. Cait reminds me of “Game Of Thrones” actress, Gemma Whelan in both looks and expressions. Chilton is basically the only other female with a prominent role, and although her character of Ginger feels uncharted, she turns in an impressive physical display and adds some uneasiness to events. The supporting players in Klasko, Kaempfer and Wilson all do their bit, but majority of the screen time is shared between James Wilcox, as Helen’s father whose a little more on the low-key side, somewhat aloof, and Brandon Smalls as Casey, a newly appointed deputy and friend of Helen’s. The pair is solid without setting the world on fire, but it’s Martin’s portrayal of this demented collector of eyeballs that really stands out. His appearance under all the makeup calls to mind Ezra Buzzington’s look in “The Hills Have Eyes”. There’s not a lot of effects on show early in the film (aside from a couple of aftermath shots of eyeballs) but toward the climax there’s a few kills that involve some rough eye gouging and gun blasting.
The Child Eater has his moments but he’s never really given the reigns to command the film. I’d love to have seen more stalking and more of an emphasis on sound design in order to maintain maximum tension. Because the film does lack action by presenting itself as more of a slow burner, Bowery needed to make his presence better known, and instead, he keeps to the shadows for a sizeable chunk of the run time. Thoroddsen manages to keep the intended tone in view right up until the final act, and that’s where things take a detour. Lucas’s “Come and get me” taunts for the menacing man, when combined with an off beat piece of music, result in a “Home Alone” type scenario that just doesn’t fit. One of the final moments in a fight between Helen and Bowery appears to have been taken straight out of “Scream”, just substitute Casey and Lucas for Randy and Gale and you’d have the same thing. Whilst everyone does quite a good job here, Smalls is somewhat miscast as the newly appointed deputy. He just doesn’t have that look or feel of a cop so I had a hard time believing him, especially when he fails to radio the sheriff after one particular attack. Their ages aren’t listed but Wilcox and Bliss playing father and daughter might be another example of something that’s slightly farfetched depending on what you think the age gap might be. Both Helen and Ginger were characters that weren’t fully fleshed out and that was frustrating, more so in relation to the latter. There’s clearly something from Helen’s past haunting her but it never becomes apparent, perhaps an angle to do with her late mother. Did she live in the Parker house at one point? What was the deep-seated connection? How did she wind up with the babysitting job in the first place if the father and son only recently moved there? (as all the boxes in the basement would suggest). Gingers motives were even more vague. At first she comes across like the town loony, later she approaches Lucas like she’s wanting to lead him into the arms of the eater, and finally, she looks to take a stand against Bowery with no logical arc to lead to any of it. It was all very confusing.
Child Eater is a really solid debut feature-length film from Icelandic filmmaker, Erlingur Thoroddsen. It’s one of those slow-burn horrors inspired by films like “The Witch” and “The Bye Bye Man” but still manages to possess its own identity. I dig the artwork, it’s got a short run time and a memorable villain. The location suits the narrative, Carey’s camera work is great and the lighting is perhaps some of the best I’ve seen in an indie horror film this year. The audio is sharp, the score distinctive and the performances even across the board. The action sequences and practical effects we do get are more than serviceable and fans of this type of horror will find plenty to like about Child Eater. On the downside, Bowery himself doesn’t step into the spotlight anywhere near as much as I think he should’ve. A couple of the actors felt somewhat miscast, and despite delivering decent performances they didn’t quite sell me in the role. The two female characters required a little more fleshing out for story sake, and I think the ending loses its way via a combination of clashing tones and a like for like execution with that climactic sequence. Shortcomings aside, Child Eater is an enjoyable and highly polished film that I can certainly recommend to fans of the genre. Hell, this is leaps and bounds ahead of both the previously mentioned films. I look forward to seeing what Erlingur does next!
My rating for “Child Eater” is 6/10