Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Children of the Corn (2023)

This is one Stephen King property that can probably be remade without a lot of pressure. The first film from 1984 remains popular, despite departing significantly from the original short story, which really isn’t considered King’s best work anyway. Then there were a raft of questionable straight-to-DVD sequels and SyFy Channel remakes. The last film in the franchise was truly awful, so most fans should be willing to give director-screenwriter Kurt Wimmer a little leeway for his take on Children of the Corn, which releases Friday in theaters.

No strangers come to town this time around, because why would they? Boleyn Williams’ corn-farming community is dying, thanks to pestilence and faulty GMO seeds. It is so bad, her father wants to pull the plug and accept Federal subsidies for not growing corn. However, Williams wants to stay and fight. So does creepy little Eden Edwards and the corn cult that has sprung up around her. She used to live at the local group foster home, but when her brother went crazy-from-the-fields, the sheriff tried to gas him out of the house, killing two dozen other children in the process. Subsequently, Edwards has claimed to have a weird, pagan connection to the corn fields.

Ill-advisedly, Williams recruits Edwards’ help in staging a public inquiry into the state of local agriculture. She thought it would be a public forum, but Edwards and her cult quickly turn it into the corn-country equivalent of Robespierre feeding the guillotines.

Corn isn’t exactly fantastic, but it is certainly a healthy improvement over the dismal Children of the Corn: Runaway. It also shows some signs a bit of thought went into it, at least at some early stage. Although Wimmer starts out suggesting this will be an environmental horror, he quickly steers away from that dead end.

Despite the supernatural elements, this
Children of the Corn seems to more depict the insanity of mob behavior and cults. In some ways, it very definitely critiques the revolutionary impulse, which once again leads to violent horrors Williams never imagined, but Edwards is eager to unleash. It turns out show trials can go in a very, very ugly direction.

Elena Kampouris and Callan Mulvey are both surprisingly strong as Williams and her decent father Robert. In fact, Mulvey might earn Wimmer’s film the distinction of having the nicest dad of any Stephen King film yet. Unfortunately, Bruce Spence plays Pastor Penny as a sweaty, leering stereotype, but that certainly follows in the King tradition. However, young Kate Moyer is certainly creepy, in an appropriately
Village of the Damned-kind of way.

Corn is watchable, but it makes needless minor changes that are highly likely to annoy long-time franchise followers. Instead of Gatlin, NE (which is referenced in a handful of other King stories) the film is now set in Rylstone and the pagan fertility demon is simply referred to as “He Who Walks,” instead of “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Seriously, why ask for fan discontent?

Be that as it may, the prairie revolt of the latest
Corn is weirdly unsettling, because it is so zeitgeisty. This remake is hardly a classic and it isn’t even equal to the 1984 film (which screenwriter George Goldsmith partly conceived as an allegorical representation of the Iranian Islamic Revolution), but it still manages to tap into something. About as good as the Firestarter remake and better than Lisey’s Story and In the Tall Grass, Children of the Corn (2023) opens Friday in New York, at the Regal EWalk.