Killer kids, chilling children, and oppressed orphans populate a catalogue of dark movies with similar, but not homogeneous themes.
One category of films features young protagonists driven by circumstances beyond their control to a life of darkness they otherwise would have never known. Unlike the more sensational stories featuring purely psychopathic kids, these characters have adapted a sinister lifestyle as a result of their environment.
The “creepy kid” movie has established itself as a sub-genre all its own. Something about the juxtaposition of premeditated evil and a young perpetrator both unnerves and fascinates us – just when we should normally feel able to relax and let our guard down, the unexpected strikes.
The final type of film to be considered here focuses on the perennial repercussions of war on the lives of the innocent victims, who have the power neither to begin nor to end the conflicts which envelop their lives. Providing both powerful antiwar messages and testaments to the resilience of the human spirit, these movies are by turns depressing and inspiring.
Here is a sampling of them all.
10. Let Me In
The Swedish film Let the Right One In was remade as this excellent American effort in 2010. A vampire film that barely references its topic, Let Me In takes vampirism back to its roots – without the sexiness, the clichés, and the glamour of what is essentially the life of a leech. At the center of the story is a lonely, bullied 12-year-old boy who strikes up a close friendship with and finds an emotional refuge in his new neighbor – a girl who only makes her appearances at night.
As the two kids grow closer, it becomes apparent that the girl has something to hide; her oddly specific rules about when and where she can go begin to annoy her new friend who thought he had found a kindred spirit.
Let Me In is a highly intelligent film that addresses a typically sensational subject without sensationalism. It’s a movie made for adults that takes an honest look at the concept of vampirism, and follows its implications through to their logical conclusions. It’s also a touching story about human loneliness and connection, viewed through the eyes of two characters at sensitive stages in their lives.
9. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
Jodie Foster plays Rynn, the daughter of a poet who’s always away on business – when he’s not locked in his room and unable to be disturbed. The father’s constant inaccessibility irritates their landlady, whose nosiness soon becomes unbearable; add to the mix the landlady’s creepy son who won’t leave Rynn alone, and the young lady is in quite an awkward situation.
While eager to protect her father’s privacy and her own independence, Rynn also seems to have a few more secrets to hide, and the conflict between the tenants and their landlords feels sure to boil over.
In one of her earliest roles, Jodie Foster gives a terrific performance as The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane; it’s a classic example of a movie that makes us yell at the screen – Why couldn’t they have just left her alone?!
8. Village of the Damned
If you’ve ever seen a picture of a group of well-dressed kids with platinum blonde hair and glowing, staring eyes, it’s probably from this movie. One day all the inhabitants of a small village fall into a state of unconsciousness for no apparent reason; several days later they wake up, seemingly unharmed. It soon becomes clear, though, that all of the women have become pregnant, and the resulting children are not quite right.
George Sanders lends his immense credibility and acting talent to this film, playing a professor who comes to investigate the sinister things happening in the town, with the robotic kids as prime suspects.
As he matches wits and mental powers with these inexplicable oddities, an entertaining mixture of sci-fi and horror results. Village of the Damned is one of those often-referenced but little-seen films that every movie buff should be able to say they’ve seen.
7. The Bad Seed
A wonderful example of the successful adaption of a stage play, The Bad Seed’s title is basically self-descriptive. This movie provides us with an archetypal portrayal of a smiling, well-dressed, blonde pig-tailed girl who plays the perfect child until the second her parents turn their heads – then comes the evil glare darting from dark eyes.
Even as tragic events pile up all around her, little Rhoda’s act is so polished that she somehow avoids suspicion much longer than she should. Hers is the kind of character that an audience loves to hate, and this movie gives us ample opportunities to exercise our schadenfreude.
As with many movies of this type, what makes it so fun is how the performers completely commit to their roles, and the main actress provides us with a truly iconic effort. Factoring in the risk that it may cause you to become suspicious of every polite child you ever meet, The Bad Seed comes highly recommended.
Perhaps the least subtle entry in this list is Orphan, a well-made if unoriginal effort about the quintessentially evil child. A quick glance at the promotional posters will provide more of a spoiler alert than anything in this article, but rest assured that this movie offers plenty of fun and chilling entertainment along the way.
Soon after adopting an orphan named Esther, a lonely young couple begins to suspect that they have welcomed a snake into their home. But for every troubling action, Esther displays a sweet gentleness that keeps her new parents in limbo about what to think of her.
The keys to this movie’s effectiveness are its excellent performances: Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard as the parents, and Isabelle Fuhrman as the orphan girl. When they throw themselves into their roles with such passion, it’s easy for the audience to become immersed in the thrilling ride.