It’s hard to think of a worse time to release a half-assed horror movie involving fungus than right now, when an excellent horror show about fungus has captivated America for seven consecutive Sunday nights.
The overwhelming success of “The Last of Us” can partially be attributed to this being the perfect moment for eco-horror — as humanity’s neglect of our planet keeps making us anxious, there’s something perversely compelling about watching the earth use mushrooms to hit us back. But while it’s fun to watch great artists meet the moment, watching bad ones swing at topicality and miss is a uniquely demoralizing experience. If “The Last of Us” is an exploration of how a deadly fungus could cause society to break down, the new “Children of the Corn” remake is an exploration of how apathetic direction and a lethargic screenplay can make a cult horror franchise created by Stephen King seem like the dullest thing ever captured on film.
Rylstone has a corn problem. Economic activity in the small farming town has always revolved around its corn fields, but GMOs from a nefarious corporation known as Synth-Gro has caused a dangerous fungus to start growing on the corn. The crops are sick, which means the town is sick — as we’re apparently meant to infer from the beige cinematography that makes everything look like sad stock footage. The adults who run the town are reaping the consequences of allowing Big Corn to spray chemicals in their fields, so they’re forced to consider accepting government subsidies to stop growing corn in an attempt to drive prices up.
The town’s children (who, as you might guess by the title, are very pro-corn) don’t like this. Their attempt to express their opposition by crashing a town meeting is ignored, which causes them to start convening in the corn field each night to worship an unseen monster that lurks between the stalks. They eventually form a murder cult with the intention of killing every adult in Rylstone — until Boleyn (Elena Kampouris), the only teenager who’s bold enough to resist the violence, decides to form a plan to save her town.
Kurt Wimmer’s film is almost a bizarro “Top Gun: Maverick” — a case study in everything not to do when rebooting a long-dormant franchise. It’s been decades since “Children of the Corn” was a culturally relevant horror brand — if it ever really was — and for some reason these filmmakers thought that a plot revolving around the nuances of American corn subsidies was the shot of adrenaline that would elevate it back into the zeitgeist.
The 92-minute film pulls off the impressive feat of moving at a molasses pace without creating any suspense, subjecting us to what seems like half an hour of town meeting speeches before we get to see anyone die in a corn field. What should have been a stupidly fun piece of camp horror ends up unfolding like an episode of “Yellowstone” written by Thornton Wilder starring the worst community theatre actors on the planet. (Seriously, the line “What happened to the glorious golden grain that we grew up with, that our forefathers planted?” is uttered without a hint of irony.)
All of the dinner theater-level drama makes less sense the more you think about it, as it’s almost impossible to parse out the film’s incoherent worldview. It starts by saying that corporations are bad and GMOs are hurting the planet — simple enough so far. And the adults have decided to accept government money because it’s the only way to keep their town afloat while their chemically-altered crops are sick — a rational decision, regardless of one’s opinion on corn subsidies. But then the kids start getting upset because… they just love corn that much? The script seems like it’s circling some pantheistic conservation message, but it dramatically overestimates the extent to which environmentally conscious kids fetishize the crop that’s used to produce Doritos and Mountain Dew.
The debate eventually devolves into a heavy-handed shouting match about how kids deserve a vote on these issues because it’s their future that the out-of-touch adults are gambling away. But the middle finger to American gerontocracy is a lot less effective when you consider that these are evil children turned into murderers by a corn field. The film essentially makes the case that government by demonic eight-year-olds and having too many 65-year-olds on the city council are comparable evils. Nobody asked for any of this — we just showed up to see a few severed limbs!
It feels misleading to call this a “slow burn” film — because that would imply that something interesting eventually happens — but the decision to hide all the spectacle behind 80 minutes of bland kitchen sink drama feels inexplicable. Until you see the actual creature lurking in the corn, when it suddenly makes perfect sense why they wanted to keep it hidden. The lanky CGI bogeyman looks like something that the animators who craft the robots in the bottom corner of NFL telecasts would come up with if they showed up to work hungover and only had an hour to meet a deadline. It’s a fittingly underwhelming ending that drives home the realization that you’ve wasted 92 minutes of your life that you’re never going to get back.
“Children of the Corn” is clearly one of the worst Stephen King film adaptations ever made — if anything, it seems unfair that it’s included in a category with so many good movies by the grace of a technicality. Lumping this in with “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand By Me” is akin to suggesting that rest stop signs on the Ohio turnpike are comparable to Shakespeare’s sonnets because they both feature the written word. But in the long term, it may end up being a good thing for the “Children of the Corn” brand — because it makes the famously maligned original movies seem downright watchable by comparison.
RLJE Films will release “Children of the Corn” in theaters on Friday, March 3 before it hits VOD on Tuesday, March 21.
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