Not long ago we got two very cool genre films that had very similar stories. They were the British sci-fi film Dredd and the Indonesian action flick The Raid. Some fans think it’s obvious that one group of filmmakers stole the “lone hero battling his way up a building that’s absolutely packed with vicious henchmen” concept from the other group, but given how simplistic that premise actually is – and given that both films were in production around the same time – it seems unlikely that there was any intentional thievery afoot. (Plus both movies kick ass, so there’s your happy ending.)
That anecdote is pertinent because the After Dark Originals release called Children of Sorrow has a whole lot of stuff in common with Ti West’s The Sacrament. So much in common, in fact, that one film is bound to be dismissed as a rip-off of the other. But since Ti West is no thief, and since Children of Sorrow has been on a shelf at Lionsgate since 2012, one is tempted to chalk it up as a weird coincidence and just focus on the films.
While The Sacrament may indeed be the best film of Ti West’s career so far, there’s actually a nice batch of decent material to be found in Jourdan McCloure’s Children of Sorrow. Hell, if you’re itching for two movies in which a group of lost souls fall prey to a creepily charismatic cult leader, these two would make for an interesting (if rather depressing) double feature.
Children of Sorrow gets off to a bit of a rocky start. Ostensibly we’re along for a “found footage” journey with a British woman who joins a freaky cult in order to find out what happened to her ill-fated sister. That thread is virtually dropped in favor of what seems to be a PR video for the plainly nefarious “preacher” Simon Leach (Bill Oberst Jr.), who wants his assistant to record “everything.” The switch in perspective helps Children of Sorrow for two reasons: A) Leach is considerably more interesting than the British gal, and B) it’s the key narrative difference between this film and The Sacrament – which is told from the perspective of an investigative reporter.
To say that Children of Sorrow “sags in the middle” would be a fair way to put things. Leach (and his assistant Mary) are fascinating at the outset, but the screenplay meanders in Act II as we get to know all the cult members (maybe two of them are interesting) and the editor works to fill some running time. And then, to its credit, Children of Sorrow gets bloody, creepy, and actually a little bit shocking in one or two places.
If Oberst’s performance as Leach keeps Children of Sorrow afloat through the slow stretches, it’s the simple yet harrowing third act that salvages the film completely. Those who enjoy griping about the questionable logic of “found footage” material will find a few things to focus on, but once Children of Sorrow gets rolling it has a few interesting ideas, jolts, and gross-outs to dole out. At its best moments, like most well-made horror stories about “cult life,” Children of Sorrow turns bleak and brutal.
Considerably more sedate and a bit more cerebral than most of the After Dark Films titles, Children of Sorrow goes to some familiar places, takes a while to warm up, and even struggles a bit in the middle – but it also earns points for mood, restraint, simplicity, and some well-earned shocks when all is said and done.
Scott Weinberg (@ScottEWeinberg)
CHILDREN OF SORROW is released in the UK on June 8 via TheHorrorShow.TV