Child Eater

| March 31, 2017

In a recent review for the movie Bloodrunners, I lamented the lack of ambition of too many independent horror filmmakers. While I do believe that lack of ambition is a problem for the genre and independent film scene as a whole, I also must recognize that there are pleasures in seeing familiar material well-executed. It’s admirable to see filmmakers whose reach exceeds their grasp, but not every movie has to break brand new ground in order to justify its existence. Movies like Babysitter Massacre and The House with 100 Eyes take the basics of the slasher and “found footage” horror films respectively and give those forms a little something extra to make them stand out from their peers. Finding these movies can be just as satisfying as finding those ambitious wild cards that seem to come out of nowhere. Debut feature filmmaker Erlingur Thoroddsen’s Child Eater fits comfortably in this category: It’s a solidly constructed, unpretentious horror show that delivers genre thrills without much fuss.

Helen (Cait Bliss) is a twentysomething living in a small town with her father (James Wilcox), who is the local Sheriff. She works at a diner but needs more money, so her father sets her up with a babysitting gig. The downside is that Matthew (Weston Wilson), the single father who has just moved to town with his son Lucas (Colin Critchley), lives in a house tied in local lore to a string of gruesome murders. Twenty-five years ago, Robert Bowery (Jason Martin) began abducting children, taking them to a small theme park in the nearby woods, and eating their eyes in hopes of restoring his own failing eyesight. Ginger (Melinda Chilton), the only one of Bowery’s victims to survive, believes Bowery has awakened to kill again. When Lucas disappears from his home under Helen’s watch, she and her sort-of boyfriend Tom (Dave Klasko) set out for the abandoned park to find him. Needless to say, they get a lot more than they bargained for.

Child Eater is pretty straightforward. It takes just enough time to set up its characters and their relationships and conflicts before jumping into the action. Thoroddsen makes excellent use of his locations, including the large old farmhouse where Matthew and Lucas live and most notably the grounds of the old theme park. Unlike many independent creature features, the titular monster here gets a fair amount of screen time without wearing out its welcome. Bowery’s design is simple but effective, incorporating a bit of Nosferatu‘s Graf Orlok with a more hulking physical presence. The practical effects are a refreshing change from low-budget indie horror’s over reliance on distractingly bad CG, and Thoroddsen is not shy about splashing that blood and gore around. What may be most impressive about the film’s approach, though, may be Thoroddsen’s willingness to allow creepy scenes and scares to play out mostly without the assistance of shrieking soundtrack cues. There are a few moments punctuated by loud noises, but many times when almost any other film would be telling you to jump out of your seat with its soundtrack, Child Eater trusts seeing its horrors on display are enough.

This commitment to being a well-constructed horror show above anything else gives Child Eater a throwback feeling without being overtly “retro” in any obvious way. Its low budget origins mostly show through in the acting–the cast is mostly just fine, but there are no star-making breakout performances here–and in some small issues in the textures of its digital cinematography. Neither of these issues are particularly distracting, though, especially when the overall craftsmanship of the film is so sturdy. It’s not the kind of movie that changes the game, and it probably wouldn’t change anyone’s mind who isn’t already interested in horror, but Child Eater is a strong debut for its writer/director and well worth a look for horror fans seeking traditional genre thrills ably delivered.

MVD released Child Eater on DVD and VOD on 28 March 2017. DVD special features include a 16-minute reel of deleted scenes and a commentary track with director Erlingur Thoroddsen and actors Cait Bliss and Jason Martin.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
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