Monday, 17 March 2014

Film - Who Can Kill a Child?

The Spanish film, Who Can Kill a Child? (1976), directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador, starring Prunella Ransome, Miguel Narros, Antonio Iranzo, Lewis Fiander, and  Marisa Porcel, is a strange movie, starting with a series of documentaries about the outrages of war since the 1940s and the massive numbers of children who died in them. It is so grim, based on fact, from the death camps of wartime Germany to the monumental famine in Biafra, that the film which followed would have a massive task to justify the prelude. Suddenly, from the gritty black and white footage we have been regaled with thus far, we are suddenly thrust into an over-bright world of dazzling colour as our two protagonists arrive in Spain during a festival, with the loud blasts of firework displays and crowded streets around the resort's harbour. Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) is heavily pregnant and she and her husband, Tom (Lewis Fiander), are looking forward to leaving the chaotic resort to sail to the island of Almanzora, which Tom remembers fondly as quiet, unspoiled by tourism, where they can rest and relax. Everything seems perfectly normal. They even manage to hire a boat in which Tom can sail them across the stretch of sea to the island from the local postman who regularly takes mail there. The only disturbing occurrence are a couple of bodies washed ashore in the resort - bodies which show signs of having been savagely attacked.

The crossing to the island, though, is easy. On the quayside the only inhabitants in sight is a group of children, one of whom appears to be inexplicably hostile. The small town by the harbour is typical of the region with white plastered walls which reflect the sunlight with blinding brilliance. The town is oddly quiet as Tom and Evelyn make their way through it, looking for their lodgings. On their way they enter a shop. Unable to find anyone there to serve them, though, they leave money behind for a number of provisions they help themselves to from the shelves, then head further into the village. The only people they have still seen are children, including a young girl fascinated by Evelyn's pregnancy. The tension is built up with unnerving stealth. None of the children have so far said one word, even to answer direct questions by Tom, and we know there is something seriously wrong with the island. The absence of any adults is inexplicable, the more so because a rotisserie has been left unattended so long, cooking some chicken, that they have been burned black, and an icecream cart, abandoned in the sun, contains only melted icecream. It is not till some time later that Tom and Evelyn see their first adult, an old man walking down the narrow alley outside their lodgings, who is suddenly attacked by a girl, who tugs his walking stick out of his hands and beats him to death with it before running away, giggling. From now on the true horror of what has befallen the island becomes graphically clear. With scenes chillingly reminiscent of The Village of the Damned (The Midwich Cuckoos), it is not long before Tom and Evelyn are fighting for their lives.

Though an increasingly violent film, it never trivialises what it portrays or indulges in cheap shocks. With keen insights into the horrors it portrays, it is uncomfortable, cheerless and tense, all the more so for the sharp brilliance of the light in which most of it is shot. This is a horror film in which little is seen in shadow. It is out there, shockingly clear, with nothing hidden. The finale, when you think things may finally be cleared up, has one final twist which makes what we know will follow even more horrifying than we have seen so far. 

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