Review: ‘Children of the Corn’ 2023 (blood on the plow)

Nothing ever really dies in the corn… or Hollywood.

The God-fearing town of Gatlin has been exchanged for the corporate-sponsored township of Rylstone, Nebraska… and the experimental pesticides promised to cultivate a bumper crop have instead poisoned the ground. Self-styled environmentalist Boleyn “Bo” Williams (Elena Kampouris) is leaving for college soon, but her friends accuse her of abandoning them and the dying town; it isn’t a stretch since lawlessness and abuse go overlooked, as if the town is as infected as its fields. Her father Robert (Callan Mulvey) brought the corporation in, but now he’s championing a plan to accept government subsidies and keep the town alive by plowing under the fields. The pastor’s adopted daughter Eden (Kate Moyer) — the sole survivor of the police gassing the local orphanage to subdue a single boy — takes exception to the plan along with Bo. Contacting a reporter out of town, Bo’s plan is to hold the corporation accountable to pay for their negligence, but Eden has a different idea to make things right… one whispered to her by He Who Walks Behind the Rows.

There are challenges in trying to adapt this original Stephen King short story into a feature-length feature: the POV from outsiders discovering the condition of the forgotten town, the takeover not being center stage, and the nature of He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Writer/director Kurt Wimmer appears aware of these shortcomings and reinvents the story to happen right now and in real-time, leaning into how everything went to hell as a source for horror but willing to be more ambiguous about the nature of evil. This newest incarnation — shelved in 2020 due to the pandemic — heaps the blame squarely upon the adults and, in the most horror-film kind of way, over-punishes them for their transgression. By taking religion out of the equation and substituting in corporate greed enabled by adult apathy, is it really too difficult to believe disenfranchised children (given a supernatural push) wouldn’t take back their future?

The original story and film introduces Issac, an Amish-dressed boy who speaks for He Who Walks Behind the Rows, but there’s little explanation given for his rise to power other than an evil entity seizes an opportunity to do harm; guess that was left for the other ten sequels. In contrast, Wimmer’s remake reveals why the children would be swayed and even suggests the elemental force inhabiting the fields of being corrupted due to adults being irresponsible. While Kampouris’ Bo is the protagonist, Moyer’s Eden is the reason to watch, deliciously antagonizing and speaking like an old soul sickened by the status quo. All the hints of what’s to come are there for the taking, including a twisted sense of poetic justice; after everything that’s happened, it’s not hard to empathize with Eden… and after all, it is a horror movie, isn’t it?

With kids and their plight at the forefront, He Who Walks is pushed into the background and held back for as long as possible. The reveal isn’t as compelling as the buildup, a CGI creature that looks much like one might imagine. Unlike Issac in the original, Eden doesn’t really need a sniveling Malachi to back her up, but it begs the question of how the corrupt elemental got its hooks into Eden… or Eden got her hooks into it. Hearing it whisper to her or communicating through another means could have added an additional element, like her own personal Black Phillip. The balance between the story elements and the horror opportunities are lopsided at times, suggesting cuts or editing that hamstrung a more complete story. Viewers who despised the 1984 original or readers who can look past the departures from King will get more out it; everyone else will likely see it for a final opportunity to nibble off what few kernels are still left on the cob.

He Who Walks could be seen as an entity not dissimilar from It’s Pennywise, an otherworldly creature that took a terrestrial form to feed, but that’s not what this movie dwells upon. Adults forget that children see and remember, emulating their guardians before finally being able to see them for the flawed people they are. Not everything works in this reboot — fingers crossed on a director’s cut to fill in some blanks — but the story rework is worth a look and Eden is worth a horror fan’s time.

Children of the Corn 2023 is rated R for violence, bloody images, and kids showing off their true grits.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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