A cheap, well executed British SciFi film about a cohort of superintelligent, mind-reading children growing up in a small English village.
The original title of the story, I think, was "The Midwitch Cuckoos," a less exploitative but far more appropriate title than "Village of the Damned." We may think of cuckoos as a cute wooden thing that comes out of a gingerbread clock and makes funny noises to announce the time, but that's because we are not birds. Real cuckoos are brood parasites. They lay eggs in the nests of other species of birds. The other birds fecklessly hatch them. And, man, are the cuckoo hatchlings ugly -- gray, featherless, sinewy things that immediately go about the business of rolling the other eggs out of the nest to get rid of the competition. They are born evil.
In this movie the cuckoos are children. Their mothers were impregnated by -- well, by some kind of extraterrestrial infrared hypermolecular cosmological incubus. Anyway, all the women of Midwich become pregnant during a blackout period that encompasses the entire village for a few hours. It's chilling from the outset to see others try to enter the village and flop down as soon as they cross an invisible boundary.
These kids aren't ugly though. They all have blond hair and magnetic eyes. And what one of them learns, the others know immediately. But handsome or not, they can immediately solve one of those Chinese-box puzzles in which you have to slide panels around, up and down, until you expose the inner drawer. It always takes me ten times as long as it take them.
This is an intelligent science fiction thriller. Here are these dozen or so kids, who have powers beyond the natural and need no one except each other. Like autists they don't show any affection for anyone or indeed any emotion at all, unless determination is an emotion. Their biological mothers mean nothing to them, the supposed "fathers" even less. What they need is a good dose of what Rousseau called "amour propre," love of self based on the opinions of others. It won't make them happy but they'll be less destructive.
What they seem to want as they grow into preadolescents is to be left alone except for what tutoring George Sanders as the requisite professor can give them in earthly knowledge. They're mortal enough. An independent community of them has been destroyed in the USSR. And they're dangerous too. In three instances -- one accidental, two deliberate -- a villager almost kills some of them, and he dies the way he intended them to die.
Why are they here on earth? Nobody knows. If the kids know, they're not telling. National leaders sit around in conferences wondering what to do with them. It's not easy to put a bunch of 10-year-olds in prison, let alone destroy them. It's not just morally difficult, it's practically difficult too because, after all, these kids can read the "front part" of everybody's mind. (They're working on the back rooms too.) Sanders proposes that the government give him a year to teach them in the local school and to study them, and the wish is granted.
But eventually Sanders comes to realize that when they are grown the children will have all the power and knowledge they need to take over the entire world, and maybe that IS their goal. They show nothing in the way of humane impulses. If they only kill when they are threatened, well that can change as soon as they pick up some of the values of the world they're now living in. Yes -- ruthless fascist dictators seem about the right slots for them. I can't readily visualize them as Gestalt psychotherapists.
Sanders decides that they have to go, but it's a problem because, although he's about the only person in the village they feel any trust for, they can also read his intentions. And naturally if he succeeds in ridding the world of these kids, he must go with them because, really, how can you murder these beautiful intelligent children and go on living with yourself. In order to accomplish his goal, he must think of nothing but a brick wall, so they can't read his mind. But they are suspicious and their collective power begins to cause the brick wall to crumble -- too late.
I said this was a low-budget flick and it is. There are hardly any special effects to speak of. The production couldn't even afford to pay a stunt man for a full body burn. The performances are fine, but the direction is no more than efficient, and the art direction and photography project a chilly and grimy atmosphere which seems to have occurred naturally.
I also said it was intelligent and it is. It's not exactly a horror flick because it has no monsters or murderers and it's not exactly science fiction in the usual sense because it takes place in the present and there isn't a robot in sight. What it does is use improbable events to pose a series of important moral questions. Nobody would argue that these kids are likable. And maybe their Daddies were nothing more than a shower of golden coins or a stream of photons. But they look human and in many ways act it. They don't want to die -- they know about mortality.
They certainly DO seem dangerous but they haven't done anything irredeemably evil yet. Sanders decides that there's nothing wrong with them that a darn good blowing up wouldn't cure and we applaud when he manages to carry out his plan. But he's making an awful lot of questionable assumptions. Do they deserve to be killed en masse? Would YOU kill them all?
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