Contains mild spoilers.
"Who's been sleeping in my bed?" asked Emma Tunny (Chloë Grace Moretz), the young daughter of newly widowed Karen Tunny (Lori Heuring) after she is forced to take up the residence of her late husband's family's old dilapidated mining house deep off the beaten track near Carlton, Pennsylvania. The answer of course, is a hundred odd year old zombie kid who, along with some friends, has been cursed to roam the hills at night enacting brutal and rather bloody vengeance on all who happen to find themselves out for a stroll. If that doesn't sound nice, you're getting the right idea of what Wicked Little Things is all about.
It's not your usual zombie story, but in what has unfortunately become, at times, quite a tired stale genre, a bit different is more than welcome. Let's be clear though, Director J. S. Cardone's Wicked Little Things or Zombies is a zombie film. The little kids are absolutely, one hundred percent dead and reanimated soulless little shits that like eating the living, and they're not the same sweet little tykes they once were before the accident.
I say accident. Cruel mine owning Mr Carlton didn't mean for all the imprisoned and exploited little children to be crushed to death but he sure didn't do anything to ensure it didn't happen. Also he was quite happy to give the command to blow the next charge regardless of sweet little Mary's (Helia Grekova) precarious position. Well, the spirits of the kids, or the land, or some primordial super deity also didn't see it as an accident, hence a hundred years on the hollow eyed walking shells are up and about and still really, really pissed off.
We'll call it 'ancient curse' that drives the children and in many respects that makes them more European revenants than zombies in any Romero, Matheson or Fulci mould. They're back for the singular purpose of enacting vengeance, and the blood-lust and cannibalism just happens to be how they go about it. They seem to be drawn to the living, yet they also appear at times to hear and react to sensory stimuli, they don't talk, they use weapons/mining tools quite effectively and they seem to be able to somewhat intelligently work situations to their advantage, i.e. go for the tyres of a vehicle first. They are fired upon at about the three quarters point and they are impervious and although we're left wondering whether a head shot would be able to put them down for good my instinct this time would probably say not. So there's a little ambiguity but that's not a bad thing and fits the mysterious and enigmatic ambience. I also liked that the younger characters have that post modern zombie aficionado's knowledge and can pick a f'ing zombie out when they see one. It's the noughties now and pretending no-one has heard of the walking dead just doesn't wash with any credibility any more.
There's very much a Children of the Corn creepiness to using children as the protagonist. They come across cold and detached, both in their appearance, with hollow eye sockets and expressionless faces that makes them at times appear like mannequins, and through the way they go about sadistically slaughtering their victims. The effect is intimidating and strong. Allied with at times a rather unsubtle score it reminded me at times of 80's slasher flicks especially Jason's killings in Friday 13th.
There's a lot to admire in Wicked Little Things. It's genuinely eerie, full of tension and full of small subtle and well crafted jumps and disturbingly dark scenes. The narrative makes sense, albeit if you're happy to go along with the small off the beaten track trope that in a hundred years no one's really asked too many questions why so many people who visit these woods go missing. The pacing is strong, the cinematography flawless and it all holds together well. A macabre creepy tension-oozie horror full of disturbing ideas, eerie scenes and gratuitous and sadistic bloodshed, recommended, 7/10.