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Jul 13, 2010

Village of the Damned. 1960 B&W production.

Very much feeling like a Twilight Zone episode writ long, Wolf Rilla’s "Village of the Damned" follows the goings-on of the small British village of Midwich, mostly focusing on the wealthy scientist Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) and his brother-in-law Major Alan Bernard (Michael Gwynn). In the first few moments of the film, every man, woman, and animal in the town of Midwich suddenly passes out, as does every entity entering the town borders, and things stay that way for several hours. A few weeks later it is discovered that every woman capable of giving birth is now pregnant. The fetuses develop healthily and rapidly, as do the children they become, but some things are off. The children all have silvery white hair, eyes that seem to glow when they’re angry, and even have a sort of hive mind! As the town is gripped in terror and the children grow, their psychic prowess and violent natures manifest themselves in a drowning, a car crash, some forced suicide, and an immolation, all while Gordon Zellaby, father of David (Martin Stephans and one of the strange children) tries to protect the tykes long enough to teach them right from wrong.

The strongest and weakest point of Village its runtime. It moves at a brisk 77 minutes, a refreshing pace by 2018’s standard of 2-and-a-half-hour films, and so Village doesn’t overstay its welcome. The unfortunate downside here is that its laser-focused plot doesn’t leave much room to explore some of the larger, more intriguing themes. The admittedly interesting core of the film is the nature vs. nurture argument, with one of its central conflicts being if Dr. Zellaby can teach the children morals, but with the tight running time we never see him really try to do so. An early scene is of an unmarried, pregnant teenager desperately trying to convince her doctor that her pregnancy is impossible, but this excellent source of drama only lasts one scene. Any speculation on where the children actually come from is also relegated to a single scene, and the film largely sidesteps the rather obvious theme of postpartum depression. Any of these factors could have worked to amplify the tension, and what’s left, while effectively creepy at points, can feel a bit toothless.

SPOILERS AHEAD. On a personal level I think I just disagree with this movie. The children all claim to be much smarter than any average human because of their lacking emotions, but every time they demonstrate this superiority it just convinces me that they aren't. When a man nearly crashes his car into one of them (mostly because she rushes out into a street without looking) they make the man reenter the car and kill himself by smashing into a wall. First, it was ALMOST an accident, killing him doesn’t even make much sense in a self-preservation sense. Second, this incident just serves to make everybody less trusting of the children, including the driver’s brother, who then attempts to shoot several of the children. He is talked down by the doctor, but as he is walking away the children make him bite the barrel of a shotgun and fire. This makes both of the elder Zellaby’s and the Major fully turn on the children, and AGAIN enrages the town, resulting in a mob that tries to burn them alive. They even at one point seem like they’re trying to use their psychic powers to make the Major convince people to leave them alone, which they could very likely do, but instead they just put him in a coma for a few hours. These children aren’t advanced, they’re stupid.

Pros: Tight pacing, creepy kids are creepy
Cons: Too narrow a focus, some inconsistent characters


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