Children of the Corn is an Imperfect But Promising Reimagining of the Stephen King Classic

There may be some life yet in this old Stephen King story.

Growing up is hard in Stephen King’s world. King’s young protagonists frequently find themselves beset by everything from human bullies (It) and cruel parents (Carrie, The Shining), to shifty institutions (Firestarter, The Institute) and deadly social rules (The Long Walk), or even predatory supernatural entities (It, The Outsider). In his 1977 short story Children of the Corn, children finally get the last laugh as a murderous cult of kids terrorize an unfortunate traveling couple.

It’s the story that launched a now-11 film franchise, beginning with the original 1984 adaptation Children of the Corn. Director Kurt Wimmer’s recent entry is said franchise’s latest fresh restart, one of the first films to complete production during the pandemic, finally getting a wide release after its very, very limited regional release in 2020. The new outing is more of a reimagining than an adaptation of the King story, boasting a modernized, novel take on the material that isn’t weighed down by any long-running prior continuity.

It begins with a massacre. Young Eden (Kate Moyer) sits outside the Rylstone Children’s Home beside the dying cornfield surrounding Rylstone, Nebraska. An older boy emerges from the field, looking far more like a corpse than a boy. He whispers, “I don’t want you to cry anymore, Eden” before grabbing weapons, entering the Rylstone Children’s Home, and killing every adult in the building. The police response uses animal tranquilizer gas, accidentally killing the 15 orphans within. Eden disappears, emerging from the corn four days later, angry and obsessed with Lewis Carroll’s blood-soaked Red Queen.

A short time later we meet our protagonist Boleyn (Elena Kampouris), on the verge of going off to college. In the fields, she encounters Eden, now fully embodying the Red Queen and leading a zealous gaggle of children in a mock trial for one of their own. Order among the adults is in similar shambles, with the surrounding corn dying and rotting. Boleyn’s father Robert (Callan Mulvey) blames Big Agro and wants to burn the corn, while Pastor Penny (Bruce Spence) blames the town’s “spiritual crisis.” Boleyn comes across Eden and her cult of friends painting the corn red with blood (warning sign, anyone?), and enlists them to bring the adults to the town’s Community Hall at night for a televised show trial, with a journalist in tow to witness the event. Enlisting a diminutive, blood-covered cult leader to gather up the adults, however, turns out to be a shockingly bad idea.

There are some logic problems here, sure, and questions that need to be clarified. What exactly is Boleyn trying to accomplish with a show trial and a journalist, and why does the non-local journalist actually book it to come to this small, dying town? Why does the small town care so little about its children? The sheriff is out of office after killing 15 orphans but a short time later, and Rylstone’s stopped talking about it. Why doesn’t the town care about the rampant, obvious child abuse, or the fact that kids run so literally wild they’re out making cults in the fields at night?

There are also some missed opportunities — for example, in most of the film we’re told that nothing really dies in the corn, but the film could have made much greater use of that dictum as tensions escalate towards the finale.

Look upon your Red Queen and despair.

RLJE Films

Logic issues aside, Children of the Corn delivers on much of the premise. The gore effects are well accomplished in the shots that do showcase it. The design of the evil entity He Who Walks Behind The Rows is boldly visible, an interesting design, given its surroundings. The CGI used in constructing the entity does perhaps need fine-tuning, looking much better in the lead-up shots than in the full reveal.

Still, credit where credit is due: Despite being filmed during the early pandemic, Children of the Corn largely escapes feeling like a pandemic-shot movie beyond feeling somewhat small and limited in the locales we see. It would have been advisable to show more of the town, letting it feel more lived in, but the extent to which it doesn’t feel like a “pandemic-limited film” is surprising.

Kate Moyer gives a dynamic performance as the nefarious Eden, on a campaign to punish those who “sinned against the corn” as a servant of the entity He Who Walks Behind The Rows. Finding young performers who can convincingly portray menace is a harder task than one might expect, but Moyer makes for a convincing cult leader. Kampouris similarly does well as the determined, intelligent protagonist that opposes the entity in the cornfield. Callan Mulvey also excels despite being minimally used, and Jayden McGinlay gives a believable (albeit brief) turn as Boleyn’s brother Cecil. Many of the other performances are a mixed bag, however, often leaning into the melodramatic. This is particularly true for the scenes of groups yelling excitedly (there are many), adults and children alike, and many of the adults’ other performances have a similar melodramatic color to them. It’s useful that younger performers are the film’s best, but heightened realism would have added to the film’s scare factor.

Altogether, Children of the Corn is a mixed bag. The script’s logic could use some retooling, the supporting performances are inconsistent, and more attention could be paid to making it feel like a town instead of a limited collection of shooting locations. That said, the young leads give strong performances, and choosing a young girl as antagonist alongside the Red Queen iconography adds a fresh feel to the cinematic proceedings. There are individual moments that really work, alongside some curious examples of missed opportunity. It could be a little bigger, a bit bolder, but this Children of the Corn is a marked improvement in quality from a number of the entries that came before. Imperfect though it is, there may be some life in this old cornfield, yet.

Children of the Corn premieres March 3 in theaters and hits digital on-demand on March 21.

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