Roxanne Benjamin Believes There's Something Wrong With the Children

The director discusses her love of evil kid movies

Briella Guiza and David Mattie in There's Something Wrong With the Children, the new horror from director Roxanne Benjamin (Image Courtesy of Blumhouse)

If you're convinced that most kids are secretly Satan's spawn, then THeere's Something Wrong With the Children will not disabuse you of this belief. "I'm a big fan of the 'evil kid' genre," director Roxanne Benjamin chortles, and most especially "the 'evil kid but no one believes you' subgenre."

In the new horror, written by T.J. Cimfel and David White, two couples - Ellie (Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Carlos Santos), and Margaret (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gifford) - head out for a weekend in the woods. But the relaxing break gets tense as Ben becomes convinced that Ellie and Thomas' kids, Lucy (Briella Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattie), may not be the perfect little angels their parents believe them to be. Or maybe not even human ...

Austin Chronicle: The script for There's Something Wrong With the Children keys into this fear of kids as amoral agents of chaos and parents often can't see the damage they do.

Director Roxanne Benjamin on the set of There's Something Wrong With the Children (Photo courtesy of Roxanne Benjamin)
Roxanne Benjamin: I do feel that a lot of parents who have kids who are five and under don't realize that not everyone is as enamored with their kids as they are. I know a lot of cute and very polite and fun kids who are great to be around, but it's like anyone who has a dog who is high-strung and running around, ripping up the furniture. 'Isn't he adorable?" "No! No, he's a menace!" And they just don't see it. Everything their child does is just gold, and every move they make and every sniffle they have, they're just completely spellbound by, and there's something really fascinating in that when its comes to a horror sense, of people not being able to see the outside perspective of their own children.

When the script first came to me, it was about Alisha's character wanting so badly to have children, and she's trying to convince Ben throughout the whole movie to have kids with her, and he finally caves in. I thought the whole premise of the script is such fun for me that it's a little archaic to have this woman just kind of brow-beat her husband into having children with her. I think it's much more interesting to look at the dynamics of these friendships, of the people who have kids and people who don't, and of a woman who doesn't want to have kids, or hasn't really thought about it in a while, or it's not her priority, and that then she has to deal with this situation. Maybe it's actually the husband who wants kids, and maybe she's the one who's 'Uuuurgh' about the whole thing.

That made it much more interesting to me as a creator who works in a field where there are a lot of women who have to make a choice between one and the other, or for whom it's just not on their dance card. That seemed like a dynamic I'd seen less of, and that was something I really tried to bring to the project on top of what T.J. and David had already done.

AC: You're a fan of 'evil kid' films but with this and your first film, Body at Brighton Rock, it's clear that you're a fan of making films in the wilderness.

RB: It started because I grew up out in the woods, so there's that, but when you're making these small independent movies the best production value you can get is just being outdoor. Point the camera in any direction and you'll see something interesting.

And it's an environment we're not hugely comfortable in all the time. It's pretty easy to get turned around in the woods.

AC: At the same time, filming in the woods has all these extra added levels of complexities that catch a lot of filmmakers off guard. At least here, unlike Body, you gave yourself a lot of interior scenes.

“It’s like anyone who has a dog who is high-strung and running around, ripping up the furniture. ‘Isn’t he adorable?’ ‘No! No, he’s a menace!’”
RB: Part of Body was that I wrote it to make a first solo feature on a very low budget, and it's basically a chamber piece. I come from theatre, so I tend to write like that anyway, but it's a chamber piece where action is a negative. Her action is to not do anything and to stay in the woods, so you have one person, alone, in the same place and their objective is to do nothing. Weirdly, I'd made this so much harder on myself than it needed to be, but it was interesting challenge that way because then how do I keep this interesting and keep the coverage interesting. It's the same as being in one room the whole time - how do you keep that interesting.

I feel like you run into that any time you have multiple scenes in a place. I found that in TV because obviously you're working with sets they use for every episode, and every director comes in and say, 'Show me the one angle that you've never shot in this room.' I'm sure the DP is *shrug* because they've shot every angle already. So you just have to find the best way to put a scene together that makes it work and not necessarily the shot you think is unique.

That's all a longwinded ramble to say yes, it helped to have one or two other locations to go to for this movie

AC: So you've been busy with TV for the last couple of years, directing episodes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Nancy Drew. What about this script made you go, 'OK, this is film number two'?

RB: Well, it's like having two different jobs, because directing TV is so different to directing features. I like doing both but it's like using left brain, right brain. You're part of system in TV, whereas in features you're building everything from scratch.

As a filmmaker I want to make features, but features don't come up that often, whereas TV is something that is continuous and they've got to fill the slots with some director somehow. I seem to have gotten into this niche of doing teen murder mysteries, which is fun but it's a completely differet genre to what I make as a filmmaker. So doing anything that's more in the horror realm is always something I'm going to be interested in.

AC: I talked with Ti West about doing TV and he said it was like solving someone else's problem for them, whereas in film you're solving you're own problems.

RB: Yeah. In TV, it's like you re-arranging someone else's house, whereas in film it's like you're building the house and decorating every room. It's everything from the ground up rather than a continuing part of a story that already has a visual language. It's speaking that language rather than creating your own.

So it's much more creatively fulfilling to make features as a director, but at the same time it's still a creative industry when you're working in TV. It's kind of fun because it's like you're trying on a different personality. Because you have your own style as a director and you're trying on someone else's style, and you have to get in the head of the showrunner, and have to get in the head of the writer, and in the head of the actors who have been playing these characters for so long, just to get what is it that they are drawn to in what you're shooting.

There's Something Wrong With the Children is available on VOD now.

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