He Who Mumbles Between the Grains
Children of the Corn (2020)
Have you ever read "Children of the Corn"? It's a short story that, while not terrible, wouldn't be something I could see inspiring 11 films (and counting). And yet, that Stephen KingRising to fame with the release of his first book, Carrie, Stephen King is one of the most prolific, and most successful, American authors (in any genre, not just horror). short story, first published in Penthouse before getting compiled into the anthology Night Shift, is somehow as big of a slasher horror franchise as the likes of Friday the 13thOne of the most famous Slasher film franchises, the Friday the 13th series saw multiple twists and turn before finally settling on the formula everyone knows and loves: Jason Voorhees killing campers 'round Camp Crystal Lake. and Nightmare on Elm StreetThe brain-child of director Wes Craven, A Nightmare on Elm Street was his answer to the glut of Slasher films that were populating the multiplex. His movie featured an immortal character, Freedy, with a powerset like none other, reshaping the expectations for Slasher movies to come.. If you're confused as to how this could happen, the 2020 remake / reboot isn't going to provide any meaningful explanation.
This Children of the Corn was actually finished, and shown, in Sarasota, Florida back in 2020 before finally finding release in 2023 (when it was acquired by RLJE Films and Shudder). It then went on to bomb at the Box Office in its limited release (garnering just over $500k during its short debut). Considering it was the first film in the franchise released in theaters in over 30 years (the previous being Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice, released back in 1992), clearly audiences weren't primed for another trip out into the corn. That or they just knew this was going to be a loser... which it is. This might just be the worst film in the Children of the Corn franchise, and considering how bad some of those films have been, that says something.
This new movie doesn't necessarily violate any of the previous films we've seen (so if you really want to think that all these films happen in the same continuity, you can). Taking place in a new town, in Nebraska, we're introduced to Eden Edwards (Kate Moyer), a young girl living in the town's orphanage. She's out playing with toys when her adopted brother picked up a weapon and heads into the house to kill the adults. They've clearly been abusing the children and Eden's brother finally snapped. In response to the violence, and the resulting hostage situation after, the local sheriff has cow anesthetic pumped into the house. This does end the stand off, but it also results in the deaths of all the children in the house, with only Eden surviving (as she was outside).
Some time later, Eden has changed. She's become darker, violent. She leads a bunch of the other kids in town around like a cult, having them play violent games. Oh, and she worships the corn, praying to it like it's almost a god. Meanwhile, our real heroine, Boleyn Williams (Elena Kampouris), is introduced as a kind of foil for Eden. Like Eden, she doesn't necessarily agree with what the adults in down have done -- especially as the corn has died, after making a deal with a Monsanto-like corporation to use only their seed, and now want to plow down the corn and sell the land to the government -- but she wants to find a way to save the town and everyone in it. Eden, though, is out for blood and soon all the adults in town will pay.
In concept I could see how this film could work. We've seen plenty of films in he franchise were some adults (or, at least, young twenty-somethings) have befallen the curse of these evil, corn-worshipping children. We've had a couple of tales (like Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest) where we got some perspective from the kids. But this is the first one that was truly dedicated to just focusing on the children and not any of the adults. This is all about the rise of the children leading to the inevitable massacre. I can see how that would be an interesting angle to pursue.
This, however, is not a good version of that movie. This 2020/2023 reboot fails to find any kind of solid hook for its story, faffing about with a bunch of wishy-washy characters that can't really get their shit together. It's pretty sad when the most interesting character is the one-dimensional 12-year-old psychopathic cult leader, but that's just how this film rolls. It spends a lot of time, frankly, focusing on the wrong people, and the wrong storylines, before ultimately leading to not much of anything.
Part of the problem is that Boleyn doesn't really have much of a character to her. She's a good girl, in contrast to Eden's evil, and she wants her town to thrive, which is admirable. However, she's not a farmer (she's going off to college to study marine biology) and she doesn't really have any ideas on how to save the town. The corn is dying and if it dies then the town goes belly-up regardless. Plowing the corn and letting the federal government remediate the land (while the farmers all get paid) actually does sound like a good idea, but both Boleyn and Eden are against it (obviously for different reasons). Only one of them has a solution to save things.
Sure, Eden's solution isn't ideal -- killing all the adults and bathing the corn in their blood probably should be frowned upon -- but at least she's a go-getter. All Boleyn is able to do is invite a social media influencer to the town so they can report on the issue. But then she blabs about that to Eden, and Eden does her violent things, quickly putting an end to that idea. The film never manages to come up with a convincing way for Boleyn to stand against Eden as an equal, and without that it's really hard to care about anything that happens in the film.
There are signs of life, though, mind you. The last act, with Boleyn on the run from Eden, chased by all the kids and desperate to find a way out of her town, has some pretty thrilling moments. Of course by then all the plot is basically done and we can focus just on action and horror. At times this really does work (when the film isn't covering for its lack of budget with cheap CGI in place of fire, explosions, and blood spray) it just would have been nice to have this much energy and interest coming from the rest of the film. Having to sit through an hour of tedium to get to a few minutes of action doesn't really make for a good film.
The biggest sin this film commits, though, is revealing the evil corn god, He Who Walks. This is a character oft referenced in the films (and the original short story as well), a god of the corn who demands blood sacrifices. The previous movies have general let the concept of He Who Walks stand on its own, never really showing the corn god because, when they did, in any form, it was goofy and stupid. And, look at this, when this new film shows off the corn god it's goofy and stupid. He's just a bad bit of CGI creating the dumbest special effect I think I've seen in some time. Eden was a solid villain. He Who Walks is not.
I hate thinking that a film like this couldn't be salvaged. The acting isn't bad, and the child performers do what they can with their roles. Elena Kampouris is decent, while Kate Moyer kills it pretty hard as the disturbed little Eden. I think with the right story, the right script, and the right writing, maybe there could have been a version of this film that worked. The final product produced here in 2020, and then shelved until 2023, absolutely fails to come together in any satisfying way. Honestly, the best thing for this film would have been to kill the story at the concept stage and start again before any of this was filmed. That didn't happen, and we're all a little worse for it.
In the end, then, this is a movie that should have stayed on the shelf. No one really cared if we got yet another Children of the Corn movie and, perhaps, it should just stay that way.