Thanks to the After Dark Horror Fest, I recently got the chance to view J.S. Cardone’s film Wicked Little Things. First of all I would like to applaud After Dark Films, for allowing these films to play in select cities. I hope more distributors will see the demand for horror films and continue to release these films to a wider market.
As fans of the genre know, we need to afford these films certain liberties in order to allow the story to unfold. Now, I am as generous as the next guy, but sometimes that can be a daunting task. This film does not ask too much, but it does require you to play along, just a bit. It works where it needs to work, but falls short in some key moments.
Wicked Little Things has a great underlying basis. In 1913, a Pennsylvania mine, stocked full of child labor. From the onset an ominous score and glimpses of kids in mining gear, and rickety elevators let us know we are in for something cruel. This is about to be the site of a disaster, burying dozens of children alive. I will admit this was a very promising foundation for a good ghost story. During some of the early scenes, I was reminded of Neil Marshall’s recent creature feature The Descent. Not for the creatures, but the claustrophobic atmosphere in tight places. There is just some kind of primal fear associated with tight spaces, especially rocky places, deep underground. Unfortunately, the scenes within the mine are limited.
Flash forward to the present. We are informed through some fairly painful-to-watch dialogue, that we are headed to an inherited mansion of sorts in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. It is a recently widowed mother and her two daughters. The house is obtained through her late husband, who apparently was hiding the deed. This establishes our curse mythos, surrounding the mining accident, and the towns’ history. We are introduced to the archetypal teen daughter, probably 15 or 16 due to the fact that driving is the coolest thing ever. A real handful, we’ve seen this character a thousand times, gallivanting around town with the local boys, and constantly throwing out her witty put-downs. And of course, little sis, played by Chloe Moretz. Most of us will remember her from 2005’s Amityville Horror remake where she also plays the youngest daughter. Again, making first contact with the deceased children. Her performance deserves to be mentioned. Child actors have the tendency to get on my nerves, and she plays her part solidly.
Once we end up in this small town it is apparent that things are awry. Bugs everywhere, bad plumbing, dark rotted wallpaper, the usual ingredients that make up a creepy house. On the front door to the house, is a constantly wet bloodspot, accompanied by creepy neighbors living in the woods, with some interesting tales about the hills, and what takes place at night.
Once night falls, we are really in for a treat. Gangs of genuinely frightening children roam the hills seeking fresh meat. Although the kids are described as “zombies” by the town’s teen population, we are never really clear on this. To me it seemed like, they were some kind of hybrid ghost-zombies. The children only manifest at night to exact their revenge. They are flesh crazed little things, so the term “zombie”, really does fit the bill. However, there are certain constraints the kids must follow.
Perhaps the best thing about the film is the composition. The cinematography and atmosphere are air tight. Production values are top notch, with the exception of some lack-luster performances by our actors. The woods were very atmospheric, always with a dense fog, and a sense that something could be anywhere. The make-up effects for the children were also pretty good. Their large black eyes make them seem emotionless, much like the eyes of a shark. It makes them all the more unpredictable.
The gore also scores pretty high. Although the scenes are relatively few and far between, when we do get a glimpse, the pay-off is pretty decent. One scene involving some dripping blood was visually impressive; when it happens you’ll know. Some other scenes show us what the ravaged corpses look like once the deed is done, and it isn’t pretty. Anyone who may have some trouble with animal cruelty might want to avoid this film. Furry carcasses are scattered all through the woods, and there is one scene involving a pig, which may upset some novice horror fans. Some hardened fans will be craving more, but what we see is more than sufficient.
All in all, the story is successful. Unfortunately it falls prey to the unsettling trend in horror films, where the conclusion requires gift wrap and a bow. Standard film clichés were apparent and robbed the story line of some vitals. Some points dragged on and several audience members let out some yawns, but the consensus seemed to be positive. If you haven’t already seen it on the big screen, I might recommend picking up the DVD, when it is released in 2007. It was good, but fails to leave a lasting impression. 5/10, for atmosphere and gore.