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Children of the Corn

The new “Children of the Corn” will be released almost 40 years after the original “Children of the Corn.” Based on Stephen King’s short story, both the first and the latest “Children of the Corn” movies are technically polished, conceptually thin, and superficially upsetting body count thrillers featuring corn-worshipping kiddy cultists. The main difference between these two movies is that, while the first “Children of the Corn” was made on a reported budget of $800,000, it somehow doesn’t look as cheap as this new “Children of the Corn,” which eventually delivers just enough formulaic violence.

The new “Children of the Corn” also features some dicey child performances, tons of dramatic clichés and short-hand, and way too many scenes that feel like they were over-edited instead of considerately directed. That’s fine, given this movie’s main appeal stems from viewers’ familiarity and/or nostalgia for its title. This “Children of the Corn” is dumb, mean, and inessential, but genre movie fans—especially those who recognize writer/director Kurt “gun fu” Wimmer without having to IMDb him—might still find something here to enjoy.

Wimmer takes a while to establish some now-expected plot points. The poor and desperate farmers of Rylstone, Nebraska—actually filmed in Rylstone, Australia—must consider taking a payoff to bury their failing corn crops. Headstrong teen Boleyn (Elena Kampouris) urges her resigned father, Robert (Callan Mulvey), to think twice before literally selling the farm, but there aren’t many options left for him or his neighbors. At the same time, the orphans of Rylstone Children’s Home, led by the aggrieved and possibly soul-dead youngster Eden (Kate Moyer), resent being left out of this crucial conversation. They say as much at a town meeting but are laughed at by the cartoonishly derisive adults.

Robert tries to restore order by reminding his fellow corn-shuckers they are laughing at children. Soon after, Eden and her group start murdering people in the name of He Who Walks (shortened from the original story and movies’ “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”), a mysterious god-like presence who requires blind loyalty and bloody sacrifices. Boleyn tries to placate Eden, but “Children of the Corn” mostly belongs to Eden and her killer friends, after about 40+ thankless minutes of dramatic set-up and throat-clearing.

Really, if you’re watching a new “Children of the Corn” movie in 2023, you’re probably either a Stephen King or franchise devotee, so you probably know what comes next. What’s startling about Wimmer’s take on “Children of the Corn”—his first directorial credit since “Ultraviolet” in 2006—isn’t a matter of ruthless or even reliable genre craftsmanship. Rather, Wimmer’s version features just enough style to buckle but still hold together until it becomes the horror movie version of a threshing machine.

Most cast members are underserved by Wimmer’s thin dialogue, which is more bland than bad. A few adult performers hit their marks hard enough, particularly Mulvey and Bruce Spence, who has a small role as a jeremiad-prone pastor. And even the younger cast members are good enough to be watchable, if not always compelling. Moyer’s the biggest surprise here since she’s often menacing despite her character’s general lack of definition or emotive range. She glowers and threatens anyone who gets in her way with a stern but un-showy conviction. And then bad things happen to the people of Rylstone, again and again, until it’s time to stop.

Wimmer’s lack of vision also does not greatly affect the blunt effectiveness of this movie’s grisly, highlight reel-ready kill scenes. If anything, artless close-ups, a tacky sepia camera filter, and plywood dialogue inadvertently enhance the movie’s cut-rate air of dread. This version of “Children of the Corn” isn’t convincing as a story about small-town kids who, after having seen their adult guardians give up on their homes, must fight for the scraps of whatever remains. Still, this take on King’s story works as a mean-spirited genre exercise. Horror fans will definitely have seen darker and more disturbing movies like this, but Wimmer and the gang are single-minded enough to make a few key deaths seem upsetting anyway.

You might think you’d found buried treasure if you stumbled on this “Children of the Corn” at your local Blockbuster Video. It’s just too bad that the modern decentralized nature of VOD/streaming/day-and-date releases makes it so that you have to put in more effort than it’s worth to see such a passable timewaster. I was heartened to receive a few different recommendations when I asked Twitter to highlight noteworthy sequels to the original 1984 “Children of the Corn.” Their answers also speak to the durability of this material, which hasn’t aged much and still grazes the same buttons it used to.

Now playing in theaters and available on digital platforms on March 21.

Simon Abrams

Simon Abrams is a native New Yorker and freelance film critic whose work has been featured in The New York TimesVanity FairThe Village Voice, and elsewhere.

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Film Credits

Children of the Corn movie poster

Children of the Corn (2023)

Rated R for violence and bloody images.

93 minutes

Cast

Elena Kampouris as Boleyn Williams

Kate Moyer as Eden Edwards

Callan Mulvey as Robert Williams

Bruce Spence as Pastor Penny

Stephen Hunter as Calvin Colvington

Erika Heynatz as June Willis

Ashlee Juergens as Carly

Sisi Stringer as Tanika

Orlando Schwerdt as Cam Colvington

Anna Samson as Sheila Boyce

Director

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Editor

Composer

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