Zac Efron’s Firestarter caught a lot of hell back in early 2022 for being a crappy remake of a Stephen King book-to-film adaptation that wasn’t all that great to begin with. Well, there’s good news for that movie: The 2023 revival of the Children of the Corn franchise is even worse. This is the 11th film and second remake based on King’s 1977 short story about a homicidal cult of children who sacrifice their parents to appease a pagan corn god in rural Nebraska. And while it isn’t the worst film the franchise has to offer, that’s only because the competition is so weak.
The latest Children of the Corn was helmed by Kurt Wimmer, a journeyman type who wrote the Total Recall and Point Break remakes, and whose last outing as a director was Ultraviolet back in 2006. That’s on brand for Children of the Corn, a franchise that has never had any particularly distinguished filmmakers attached. Wimmer’s direction is competent enough, with tiny little flourishes of style here and there. But with a script this bad, not much can be done to save a movie. And since Wimmer also wrote it, he has no one but himself to blame.
This is a remake in name only, as Children of the Corn keeps the concept of kids rising up to kill their parents in the name of “He Who Walks Behind the Rows,” then discards pretty much everything else. Wimmer’s first big mistake is eliminating King’s outside POV on the story, an adult couple trying to understand what went wrong in a seemingly deserted Nebraska town. He replaces them with a high-school senior named Boleyn Williams (Elena Kampouris). Boleyn is due to leave the small town of Rylstone, Nebraska, and go off to college soon. She wants to study environmental science and help Rylstone recover from a series of bad harvests caused by genetically modified corn. Then everything falls apart.
Boleyn is both an insider and an outsider. She’s a kid in Rylstone, so she’s safe from the plan 12-year-old psychopath Eden (Kate Moyer) has hatched to slaughter every adult in town. (The “why” of all this is saved for the end of the movie, and is groan-worthy when it is revealed.) Boleyn opposes the plan. Right until it’s too late, she believes there has to be a peaceful solution to the conflict between the town’s squabbling adults and children. The grown-ups are eager to bulldoze Rylstone’s corn crops for the government subsidies and move to Florida. The bloodthirsty children… don’t want to do that. (Again, the “why” is both elusive and dumb.)
Kampouris does her best horror-movie emoting as the plot gets thicker, but Wimmer doesn’t know what to do with Boleyn once the narrative is in motion. That means she spends a lot of the movie standing around looking horrified and not really doing much of anything. The same goes for her dad, Robert (Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s Callan Mulvey), who throws up his hands and declares that he can’t do anything about the destruction of Rylstone, which makes his character irrelevant for the rest of the movie.
A more successful bit of recasting comes in the form of 14-year-old Moyer, who steals the show as the female equivalent of the original movie’s preteen preacher, Isaac. She’s a mini Joker in the chaotic Heath Ledger/Joaquin Phoenix sense of the character, with additional shades of a genocidal dictator and a murderous cult leader. Moyer gives her all as Eden, and her hammy delivery as this evil, conniving villain is a hoot — in fact, it’s the only truly enjoyable thing about this picture.
One area where Children of the Corn decides to remain inexplicably faithful to the original source material is in its depiction of He Who Walks Behind the Rows, briefly described in the short story as a green man-plant hybrid with glowing red eyes. Wimmer runs with this idea, overloading the back half of the movie with unconvincing CGI effects. (One scene straight-up rips off King Kong, as He Who Walks comes crashing out of the corn to snag a woman who’s bound to a cross.) We see much more of this cornstalk scarecrow monster than we need to, and every time it appears, it looks a little sillier.
If Children of the Corn were just an empty-headed hybrid of a creature feature and a killer-kids movie, it might have been kind of fun. What really brings this remake down is the fact that it sets up so many sociopolitical themes that Wimmer never follows up on, raising the question of whether he stumbled onto them by accident. Kids and parents clashing over stewardship of the environment is extremely relevant in an era where Gen Z is making headlines for its climate activism. This movie hints at that connection, then drops it. Eden and her followers rationalizing their behavior, step by step, parallels the ways ordinary people become fascists in real life. Wimmer isn’t interested in that theme either.
It’s frustrating, and attributing these mistakes to incompetence rather than apathy doesn’t make Children of the Corn any more enjoyable to sit through. Watching what potential the movie does have set itself on fire and run out into a dry cornfield by its midway point is strangely underwhelming: There’s a lot of screaming and blood, and kids giggling while clutching rusty farm equipment, but none of it leads to anything. Nary a thought is provoked, and nary an emotion is raised — least of all fear. “Nothing ever dies in the corn,” one kid explains to another before going on a killing spree in the opening scene. Maybe it’s time for this franchise to change that.
Children of the Corn debuts in theaters on March 3, and will be available on digital outlets like Amazon and Vudu on March 21.