[Review] ‘2 Little Monsters’ Is A Thoughtful Thriller About Horrible People


On February 12, 1993, two 10-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, abducted, tortured, and murdered two-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool. They took him from a shopping mall when his mom wasn’t looking and two days later, his body was found near some train tracks. Thompson and Venables were charged with the murder of Bulger and sentenced to separate detention facilities. When they turned 18, they were given new identities and released under the condition of lifelong parole.

The murder of Bulger was certainly one of the most horrible crimes in recent history. It’s just fucking heinous. The case did open up a massive debate concerning how young offenders should be handled, which is depressingly relevant in our age of rampage killings and school shootings.

Just to briefly connect this all to the world of horror, at one point during the media circus surrounding the case, a UK tabloid tried to blame the killing on Child’s Play 3, which Venables’ father had rented months prior to the killing. Child’s. Play. Three. Oy vey.

2 Little Monsters, the new psychological drama from David Schmoeller, uses the Bulger killing as the basis for its own story that focuses on the boys after their release. Schmoeller’s best known for horror classics like Tourist Trap and Puppetmaster, so 2 Little Monsters is a big departure in many ways for him. It was a successful risk though and he seems just as comfortable with an intimate character study as he does with balls-to-the-wall horror.

The film follows Carl Withers (Charles Cantrell) and James Landers (Ryan LeBoeuf) who eight years previously kidnapped and killed a three-year-old. Now they’re both 18 and released from their separate detention facilities. With the aid of the U.S. marshals, they’re given new identities, put into foster homes, and basically treated like they’re in the witness protection program. They’re legally forbidden to contact their families or each other. Simply put, they’ve gotta keep their traps shut about they’re old lives. But that doesn’t stop a whole buncha people itching to get the boys in their crosshairs: schlock journalists, tabloids, even a bounty hunter.

While the hunt to expose the boys’ new identities brings some tension to the film, the real substance boils during the scenes in which Withers and Landers are coping with their newfound freedom. They’ve been locked up since they were 10, I mean, imagine being locked up during puberty? Fuck. Landers is much more thoughtful and introverted than Withers, who carries himself in a disturbingly assured manner for someone who spent his formative years behind bars. They’re complete opposites, both physically and in how they handle their freedom. But what the meatiest conflict of the movie comes down to is: who’s the real demon? Withers, Landers, or the stinkin’ media vultures?

The two leads Cantrell and LeBoeuf are fantastic and effectively creepy in a detached from reality sorta way (like I assume someone who murdered a toddler in their youth would be). Cantrell tackles some heavy scenes, particularly the encounter with his mother. Both are solid young actors who play engaging, repulsive characters without ever going over the top.

Schmoeller’s film is a fascinating one that tastefully handles some truly disturbing material. He doesn’t serve up any simple solutions or closure either. Sprinkled throughout the film are news interview style moments in which those involved in the case speak directly to the camera. These moments work well as bookends, but cause an abrupt disconnect with the narrative at times. There are some pacing issues as well during Withers’ road trip that I felt could’ve been trimmed. Other than those minor hiccups, 2 Little Monsters is a well-crafted, thoughtful film about a nauseating, but relevant issue.

It’s available now on DVD. Originally it went by the name Little Monsters, but a 2 was added so it wouldn’t be confused about the Fred Savage/Howie Mandel joint from ’89, I guess.

Official Score

  • Cindy Neumann

    Watched this tonight….didn’t even TOUCH the surface of the horrible death they dealt that baby. They should have NEVER been allowed out of prison. They knew exactly what they were doing…I don’t care how ‘young’ they were…Robert Thompson and Jon Venables should have been put to death when they turned 18. They are still in and out of jail…they learned nothing….

    • melissa

      Are they both still alive, wasn’t sure if the ending was true or not.

      • Heather Wright

        Yes, both are still alive and living under fake identities in England.

    • lcicenine

      What happened at the end? My worthless Comcast DVR didn’t record the last few minutes!

      • Cindy Neumann

        They are alive and well….living under fake names…..search the real story online…..this movie didn’t do that little guy any justice at all.

  • Jen

    What was the point of the ending? Where the dark haired guy drove off after smiling at the camera. I don’t get it.

  • Heather Wright

    The real story is so much worse. And one of them was sent back to jail for child pornography. It would be the best thing if he was killed in jail.

    • Noneofyourbusiness

      I know! I don’t think those demons deserved to be called children because what they did to that poor baby, it’s just what you wouldn’t expect for someone their age to do. They for real, had mental problems and they literally in the ironic context of the word, were child predators. They had been in that mall and intentionally preyed on children, trying to find one to snatch up and kill. That’s premeditated murder right there, but unfortunately in the country of England, they could give less two shits about that kid because the devils that killed him were minors themselves; and that is the greater injustice. What those kids did was so horrific, that they deserve a death sentence to be honest but instead, they’re out roaming the streets with false identities, possibly leaving other people potential targets because in my God’s honest opinion, I don’t think child predators can be rehabilitated. The Venables guy (like you said) was even sent BACK to prison because he had illegally obtained, downloaded and distributed child pornography! That raises a red flag right there! Also the pathologist (I believe) even said that James’ foreskin had been retracted and that half of his clothes were removed when he was being tortured and horrifically beaten to death! That’s what raised suspicion that the boy was molested and that the crime was sexually motivated, in the case by investigators. I also read that Venables’ accomplice (Robert Thompson) is under a new identity, living with a homosexual partner. I don’t have anything at all against gays, but how many child molesters that were gay molested and targeted young boys? Says a lot. Sorry that I’m ranting but this is one of the most disturbing, heinous crimes that I’ve read that absolutely breaks my heart. There will be a very hot, special spot waiting for Venables and Thompson in hell. That I know. As for poor little James, he’s now at peace with his savior in a very special spot in heaven! <3 xoxo

  • Guest

    I’m watching this movie now, and while I know that this really happened in England, it seems unbelievable. The movie was poorly made and the actor portraying “Carl Withers” was a poor fit for the role. If I hadn’t read the news article when this heinous crime had been committed, I would have a hard time believing that this is a true story.

  • Patti

    I didn’t like the movie very much either. Personally, I could care less how they handle being free. They never should’ve been. Age has no bearing in this crime. They humiliated, tortured and murdered a child. There is no excuse for that. They bypassed the homicidal triad and went straight to psychopath. It is because of the heinousness of their crime that I find it difficult to even think of them as children then or now. Good luck to the people in the societies in which they were placed.

  • Connie

    Now that I’ve finished watching this movie, I feel that it is “LOOSELY” based on the true story. Not exactly about the real incident. Terrible movie, badly scripted.

  • Nicole Shelton

    If they are living in England why did the US Marshals have to give them new identities?!? These Sickos are in the united states!! & Jon Veneables has been thru three separate identities bc he couldn’t stop contacting Ppl from his past.