While it might have that ‘(2023)’ in the title, it’s not quite that simple for Children of the Corn. Filmed way back in 2020, it was left in Covid limbo. Cinemas weren’t yet pulling Barbie or Super Mario Bros numbers, and RLJE Films kept changing their minds about whether to hold it back or release. Plus, another narrative was bubbling up. Initial reactions weren’t great. Question marks started appearing over the quality of its writer-director Kurt Wimmer, who had such classics as Ultraviolet and the Total Recall and Point Break remakes under his belt. And Children of the Corn hadn’t had a strong adaptation since, well, ever. Not even the 1984 first movie.
Finally, with a fanfare played on the tiniest of trumpets, Children of the Corn (2023) released. On our shores, this little horror movie released in March 2023, which is not when any horror movie should release. But hey: at least it was out of Razzies contention, for this year at least.
Fans of Stephen King will recognise pretty much nothing from this iteration of Children of the Corn. It starts with Boleyn ‘Bo’ Williams (Elena Kampouris, gamely pouting her way through proceedings), who has lived in small-town Rylstone all her life, announcing to her brother, Jayden, that she’s heading to university on a scholarship. He’s a bit of a dick about it, and plays the main character card, believing that Bo is ditching him. If he wasn’t such a douche about it, we might have had some sympathy: he is indeed being left with his alcoholic father (Callan Mulvey) and his mother who we only really get to see in back-of-head shots. She’s a bit of a Sir-Not-Appearing-in-this-Film, and is apparently having an affair.
This is all set against a backdrop that might have been interesting in any other film. Rylstone is a corn-farming town, and they had previously allowed a multinational to move in and start planting their own crops. That was mistake number one, which led to their crops failing due to overuse of GMOs and herbicides. They are about to make mistake number two, as they have voted to destroy all their corn crops to gain a government subsidy which will help them out in the short term. The town is dying, and the crop fields at its centre are faltering.
Writing it now, it sounds like rich soil for social commentary and the overreach of capitalism, but nah, Children of Corn ain’t got time for that. It’s a burp of interest at the start of the movie, before the smell wafts away and we’re left with whatever Children of the Corn is.
You see, the children of Rylstone aren’t happy. Led by the precocious Eden Edwards (Kate Moyer), they’re restless. They begin by playing dodgy, dangerous games like making each other walk the plank off grain hoppers. But that rage soon stops being aimed at each other, as the vote to destroy the crop fields shifts their focus to the adults. Bo is even on their side, at least for the opening moments. It’s Children of the Corn’s neatest touch: that the protagonist has a brief fling with the enemies.
But what Children of the Corn fails to do, in any way whatsoever, is create any threat. In previous Children of the Corns, the kids would be staring, unsettling, appearing suddenly and then disappearing off the edges of the frame. They were other-worldly, and you got the sense of an entire generation possessed. It was still rubbish, but the concept at least generated some moments that made us pay attention.
In this Children of the Corn, they’re insufferable little brats. Nothing they do is scary in any way. It’s like Road House, but with everyone de-aged by about ten years. They sulk about with their hands in their pockets, looking grumpily at adults. They shout and chant when Eden gets them riled up. Some of them even hover on the edges, wondering whether they should be elsewhere.
They’re a cult, rather than anything supernatural. Except a cult sounds threatening, which these kids most definitely aren’t, so maybe ‘club’ is more appropriate. Children of the Murder Club doesn’t quite have the same ring. And Kate Moyer’s performance as Eden is emblematic: she does a game job of injecting her with energy, but she’s not malevolent – she’s just a four-foot bully.
We’d love to know what Stephen King makes of the other threat in Children of the Corn. We will mysteriously call it ‘the CGI’, as it turns up as a bundle of pixels in the second half of the movie. It’s Scorpion King levels of naffness, completely undermining any of the tension that might have been building (clue: there was none) by being so clearly created by a machine that you wonder how anyone signed off on it. It’s so bad that we wondered if it was glitching or artefacting like a bad Fallout bug in certain sections.
Picking a side in this mess becomes difficult. The adults are basically cardboard cut-outs. They’re either outright and obvious villains, cackling and deserving a comeuppance. The kids act like louts after a night out on the lash, and the CGI monster stumbles out of its PS2 to attempt a scare. All that’s left is poor Bo, who does her best to hold the attention as the movie’s protagonist. But she mostly stares wide-eyed at everything that’s going on, acting as the audience with a series of “what?”s and “no”s! She’s barely a character, and only really turns up to make some stupid decisions and act on some obvious foreshadowing. She’s covered in petrol and pushed into the corn? What could possibly happen next?
Children of the Corn (2023) is just about the least horrifying of horror movies that we’ve watched in the past few years. It’s not camp enough for a group-watch, or bad enough for a drinking game. It merely exists, a shrivelled husk that – surely – signals the end of future Children of the Corn adaptations. It must be the end of them now, right?