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Children of the Corn (2020) Review

One of the most infuriating trends in modern horror is the one where a new film will reuse the title of an old film for something that isn’t entirely a remake. The Thing, Halloween and Final Destination have all done it, purposely blurring a line that should exist for good reason; without it, it’s almost impossible to be confident in what’s supposed to be a sequel, a prequel or a reboot. Children of the Corn is the latest new film to take the title of a genre classic and apply some ambiguity to its intent. In this case, it’s part prequel, part remake, but mostly a re-adaptation of Stephen King‘s original short story. Weirdly enough, though, it doesn’t seem to do anything new.

What is and will continue to be considered the classic version of Children of the Corn, at least for now, is the 1984 film directed by Fritz Kiersch. It’s full of plotholes and continuity errors, and its big crescendo, hamstrung by terrible special effects, is either unintentionally hilarious or comedic genius. Either way, for all its faults, it’s a fun time whether it meant to be or not. If nothing else, it gave The Simpsons enough material for a decent parody, which should be the mark of any decent cult movie. Kurt Wimmer’s remake retains a lot of what made Kiersch’s film part of the so-bad-it’s-good camp, but it strips away so much of the fun.

The prequel segment of Children of the Corn comes from some extended periods of disjointed expositional dialogue. The screenplay, even this early on, seems to be written under the impression that it’s far more interesting and thoughtful than it actually is. There are conversations about the Salem Witch Trials, the psychedelic effects of inhaling crop dust, and many other things that might come to mind if you’re scrambling internally for something to talk about, and it’s all just so dull. Nothing matters, despite it being spoken about at length.

The point of the opening act is to insert some context into the narrative, something which the 1984 adaptation lacked. Instead of a cold open on a nine-year-old inducting her peers into a murderous cult of some sort, we get to hear from the people who live in the rural town where it’s all about to kick off. Except, because nothing they say to each other matters, it feels as if they don’t matter either.

This is essentially where Children of the Corn causes its own demise from the very start. Without any kind of attachment towards any of the characters, something made impossible by the absolute absence of anything of substance to any of them, it’s difficult to feel anything when they find themselves in trouble. Without that essential ingredient, what’s supposed to be a folk horror feels more like a wish-fulfilment narrative aimed at children who have a vague dislike for anyone older than themselves. Eden (Kate Moyer), the nine-year-old at the head of the murderous cult this time, even has enough of a share of action hero lines to suggest that the wish-fulfilment angle might just be deliberate. If it is, then it’s a shame nobody suggested it might not be the best approach.

Where Kiersch’s Children of the Corn suffers from questionable practical effects when we finally meet its monster, Wimmer’s remake suffers from questionable CGI. It doesn’t seem likely that this is a case of a story with a monster that just cannot be well-crafted visually, but it’s terribly unlucky that it’s been done so badly twice now. Especially in two different mediums of visual effects. Again, it’s hard not to wonder whether it might all be on purpose, as if this bad CGI was supposed to be some kind of homage to the bad practical effects of the past. Unfortunately, what was funny in 1984 just feels sad in this one.

Children of the Corn is a story that’s still looking for its definitive adaptation. Fritz Kiersch gave us a creepy but funny cult classic in 1984, but it never really hit the mark of being considered a serious genre film. Kurt Wimmer’s readaptation seems to give a more serious tone a go, but it’s still plagued with all the stuff that stopped the original adaptation from being considered a serious film in its own right. If it was never going to fix any of that, it never had much of a chance.

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