Reporter Alicia receives a call inviting her to visit a rural Catholic children’s home called Limbo. Taken care of and taught by the elderly Erda, Limbo’s ‘children’ are actually vampires, stuck in an eternal physical adolescence after being turned by ‘shameless adult vampires’. Initially horrified, Alicia soon forms strong bonds with Limbo’s occupants, particularly Siegfried, a 32-year-old in a 12-year-old’s body who knew her years ago. Though conceived as a safe haven for its ‘children’, Limbo faces a deadly and unfeeling threat in the form of brutal local vampire hunters, intent on ending the bloodsuckers’ existence.
A daring, confrontational but also very sweet film, Children of The Night (original Argentinian title: Limbo) presents a highly unusual take on vampires. Though innocents on the surface, the children of the title have mostly reached adulthood in all but appearance. Obedient of the guidelines set out by Erda, they study the bible daily and drink blood in accordance with her rules: – the younger vampires must drink from animals, while the older ones are allowed to venture into the town at night to drink a little from the necks of sleeping humans. Only the eldest of Limbo’s residents – known as The Count – feeds entirely on his own terms, never having to answer even to Erda. He tastes different types and ages of blood from large barrels in his cellar, with the discerning palette of a wine expert.
With its vampires straying far from those set out in more traditional vampire tales, Children of The Night contains some gleeful moments unlike anything you’re likely to have seen before. At one point a vampire laughs after pulling his teeth from a victim’s neck to belch, and you’d be hard pushed to think of another film in which a freshly removed intestine is used as a skipping rope. The film’s most distinguishing and startling element however, manifests itself through underlying moral themes. Director Iván Noel’s films regularly house themes relating to childhood and adolescence, and Children of The Night is no different. It confronts the English-speaking West’s tabloid-led moral hysteria surrounding the exposure of children to ‘adult’ feelings and situations, and highlights the societal hypocrisies that come out of this collective unease. Siegfried makes clumsy and unpractised advances toward Alicia which she initially laughs off, much to his dismay and confusion. At one point he asks Alicia if she thinks him attractive. “You might be with a few years more”, she replies, to which he points out: “I am a few years more. So, am I attractive?”
Another moment sees Siegfried – a 12-year-old in appearance – naively and bluntly asking the 32-year-old Alicia: “can I penetrate you?” Tabloid film critics would spit outrage and incite moral panic, but scratch the surface and the scene is not only morally unobjectionable, but also rather funny. Siegfried is a 32-year-old who has been shut off from wider society, and as a result has none of the social constraints regarding how he should express his adult feelings and motivations. We are encouraged to think further along this line, to the hypocrisy that sees our society at once fearful of children experiencing ‘adult’ traits, while remaining obsessed with the allure and perceived beauty of youthfulness. The ‘shameless adult vampires’ seem to represent society’s unleashed id, preying upon the young and keeping them looking that way.
The social comment of Children of The Night is wrapped in a moody, hushed tone which unsettles as much as it seduces. Dripping in atmosphere, the film features some memorably chilling images which betray the warmth of Limbo and its ‘family’. We first see the children in a truly spooky shot of them sleeping in their beds, lined up in the dark. Despite the darkness in the subject matter and the eruption of violence which heralds the film’s finale though, there is an overbearing sense of innocence and childlike wonder personified in the children’s wide eyes but felt through a scattered pace and mischievous sense of humour. Coming in as a naive outsider, Alicia in a way takes the role of the child, as she is taught Limbo’s ways by its grown-up children.
Provocative in its confronting of a particular societal hysteria, Children of The Night takes its message seriously while also gleefully poking at this unease. It’s a playful, poetic horror film with a disquieting beauty among bursts of inventive violence. A must for fans of outsider horror and thoughtful, meditative cinema, this is brave and confrontational filmmaking with a wry sense of humour and head-on approach to its themes. Children of The Night encourages us to look at real life situations for what they really are, rather than flying into a moral panic whenever children are exposed to things we are told they should be hidden from.
Words: Kevan Farrow