For movie titles, There’s Something Wrong with the Children is literal and self-explanatory. Something is wrong with the children, but what? Why are the kids acting so strange? What starts as a weekend trip between friends eventually turns into a nightmare thanks to the children in the latest horror movie from Blumhouse.
Directed by Roxanne Benjamin (Body at Brighton Rock), Alisha Wainwright (Raising Dion) and Zach Gilford (Midnight Mass) star as Margaret and Ben, a young couple who head to the woods for a weekend excursion. Joining the couple are their friends, Ellie (Silicon Valley’s Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Gentefied’s Carlos Santos), along with their two young children, Lucy (The Terminal List’s Briella Guiza) and Spencer (Life & Beth’s David Mattle). After the children disappear into the woods for the night, Ben questions if paranormal factors are responsible for their strange behavior.
In an interview with Digital Trends, Wainwright and Benjamin discuss the supernatural and dramatic elements of There’s Something Wrong with the Children. Additionally, Wainwright breaks down the pivotal moment of the film, and Benjamin explains her passion for evil kid movies.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: I saw an Instagram post saying you always wanted to make an evil kid movie. Why is that?
Roxanne Benjamin: I think it’s just fun to have characters that are f-ing with your protagonist in a way [laughs]. Maybe it’s because I’m immature. There’s something that really draws me to that idea. Also, the idea of like “Don’t you all see this happening,” and having that character who’s just like, “Why am I the only one who sees this,” and everyone is like, “It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fine.” Somebody being gaslit is a big part of a lot of the movies I make. I should examine that [laughs].
Alisha, are you a horror fan? If so, what do you like about it?
Alisha Wainwright: Yeah! If you look at my body of work, I definitely lean in the more genre space. But in my own personal preferences, I love psychological thrillers. I’m less into gore and jump scares personally, but I do like things that get under the skin and make you think about it long after the film is over. I would say I am a fan of the genre.
This movie definitely gets under your skin. What else about the script attracted you to take on this character of Margaret?
Wainwright: I think what I really enjoyed were the relationships between the adult characters. You obviously have what ends up being a situation with the kids, but beyond that, the adults have so many intersecting conflicts that get busted to the surface about halfway through the film. What I liked about the project was it wasn’t just this straightforward horror film. There was an element of straight drama and also a lot of humor that was incorporated into the initial act so that you kind of could relax. Then you get taken on a ride in the back half of the film.
I agree there. It flips halfway through. How did you go about building a believable relationship with Zach? The movie was filmed during COVID, so I’m assuming it was a lot harder to meet in person and talk when you’re not on set. How did you build that chemistry with Zach?
Wainwright: I think it was one of those things where we both independently came prepared for our characters. I think when something is very clearly written in the script, it makes it easier to kind of slip into that role. Sometimes you run into situations where you might need to spend a little extra time working on chemistry, and sometimes you just get on set, and things just make sense.
And I think we were lucky that way because you’re right, shooting during COVID doesn’t leave a lot of opportunity for extra rehearsal time and things like that, so we all jump right in. But like I said, once we started shooting, it became clear that the material just made it easy for us to look like we had that sort of relationship that you see on film.
The writers T. J. Cimfel and David White (Intruders) worked on V/H/S: Viral, and you were a producer on that film. Did you know they were writing this project and did you reach out to them?
Benjamin: It was a total coincidence, weirdly, that they were also involved in V/H/S 3 because the script just came to me through my manager and Blumhouse. They had sent me another project earlier on, and we kind of looked at that. We had been like looking for something to do. They sent me this one, and I read it and was like, “Oh, sick. V/H/S crew.” So it was just a total coincidence.
Take me through the process of casting the children. Did you see a lot of kids for the role? What were you looking for?
Benjamin: We did. Our casting department looked at around 600 kids, and then we saw, I want to say, maybe like 100 of those auditions at some point. It was a very lengthy process throughout our prep, trying to find these kids and then doing callbacks. Sitting down and talking to them, you kind of want to see their confidence level and how they do in different scenarios and with different scenes and everything.
I think that is really a testament to our casting department, who found these kids because they’re so, so good in the movie. They’re such naturals. I love working with kids and animals, which are the two things that you’re not supposed to like. The problem is the scheduling. I think that’s it rather than actually working with them because they were great. They were awesome.
You’ve worked with child actors before. Most recently, you were the star of Raising Dion. That’s a mother-son relationship. When children are in starring roles like in this movie, does that change your approach as an actor when you have to work scenes with the kids?
Wainwright: You know it’s funny. Someone said to me, “If an adult is a jerk, you can’t really say anything to them. But if a kid is a jerk, you can understand because they’re just a kid.” Not that anyone in this movie was a jerk or annoying or whatever. I’m just saying if ever something’s happening where you can’t get a kid to settle down or they’re like goofing off or whatever, you can look at them and be like, “Well, they’re just a kid.” [Laughs] But when you have a grown person doing that, you’re like, “Well, come on, man, get it together.”
There’s a level of concession you can make for kids, but these little ones were so professional. They had really beautiful, kind parents who were there on set with them. I think at the end of the day, you just want these kids to feel safe and also responsible, to take some responsibility for their role. Then you just let them do the work. They’re not my responsibility. I just have to come on set and play with them, so if everything is aligned, then that’s an easy thing to do.
In the beginning, the film is a character-based drama about the ups and downs of relationships and parenthood. Was the intention for this film to be driven by the character-based stuff and then add in the supernatural elements to tell this complete story?
Benjamin: I feel like they had a lot of the supernatural stuff in the script, and then I really honed in, once we get into production and you start getting into production, the female character relationship and that drama between them. It always was built in this two-part way where you’re switching from one protagonist to the other halfway through the movie, which was really interesting to me.
When reading it, you’ve got the kind of unreliable narrator who’s being gaslit, and then you’ve got the fruition of that. Then, a switch to the other side halfway through. That lends itself to a lot of interesting [things]. You’re switching your POV character. How do you build that so that we feel like it’s not jarring and we’ve been with that character enough to make that transition natural? That was a really fun, interesting thing about it.
But yeah, the drama of it is really what drew me to it. One of the big pushes I made [was] to change the name to There’s Something Wrong with the Children because I’m a big fan of Giallo titles in general and titles that are full sentences I just think [they] are funny. If you’re a horror fan, it tells you what kind of movie you’re getting into. Not that this is a Giallo, but it tells you the kind of movie you’re getting into.
Right up front, you know it’s an evil kid’s movie. I know what we’re getting into. Since you know that, you’re not trying to figure it out. I don’t feel like you’re waiting for the kids to turn evil. It’s a silly way of getting a bunch of time to spend with your characters because you know you’re going to get there. It’s almost like a Final Destination thing to me. You know everybody’s going to die, but the how is the fun part. Which thing is going to happen that’s going to make them that? That was fun for me. I feel like giving that title and getting that out of the way upfront gives you some runway to play with the characters.
Also, it’s just fun to me that it’s a comedic drama, like a dark comedy, before it turns into a horror movie. Switching from that to a straight-up horror movie in the back end and making it all adrenaline-fueled third act, I think, is a really interesting structure to play with. That really drew me to it.
I thought one of the scarier moments was the argument where Ben first accuses the kids of doing something wrong. It’s raw and visceral. Walk me through that scene and take me through your character’s motivations.
Wainwright: If you know a little bit about shooting, the more people you have in a scene, the longer it takes to shoot, especially if you’re directing dialogue to a bunch of different characters. That scene took a really long time to shoot, and I think initially, we were just so tapped in and like really living in the moment. And then I want to say like the last hour, we could not stop laughing. I don’t even remember what it was. It was probably something Carlos did because he’s such a funny person.
It was so hard to get back into that intensity, and once you’ve been doing it for several hours, it’s quite challenging. [Laughs] I think someone flubbed a line or something, and then, it became so hard to get back into that same space, but we did. That’s what we get paid to do. It was really fun to shoot that scene and have that intensity, but at the same time, underneath it all, we are like children ourselves.
With a director like Roxanne, who’s worked in horror and is comfortable with the genre, does that aid in your performance? Comfortable may not be the right word, but does it help to have someone experienced in this genre guiding the project?
Wainwright: It’s not so much about the genre, but she understands pacing. She’s more adept with the pacing in a way that I think makes horror sometimes unique is that pacing. You know how long you should wait before you jump out or you need to move more slowly. So when she would give me direction like, “Don’t rush this moment,” I think what builds tension is taking the time to really sit with the character’s face and watch them get scared, watch them relax, [and] watch them look.
I did get that note a few times from her [Roxanne]. To mind my timing so that we could really marinate in these moments. She knows how to execute those moments because she has the history. The genre is not so much to me where I feel the difference. It’s in the tone and the pacing.
With the shorter productions, there’s less time for the main cast to build that chemistry. Were there a lot of Zoom calls beforehand, or did it click right from the start?
Benjamin: We really clicked. We were all staying in the same place. Even on weekends, we would go out on nights we weren’t filming too late. We would all go out and go to dinner and hang out. Do escape rooms, go to the movies, etc. Because it’s during COVID, it’s like you’re not really around. You’re still wearing masks and everything. It was still early days there. We weren’t around that many people, so when you’re actually around a group of people, it’s like, “Oh, I remember this.” That was kind of nice. Everybody just really clicked. Everyone says like, “Oh, the cast is so fun and all got along so well,” but we really did [laughs].
I’m glad it worked out that way because when it doesn’t go well, I usually read about it in all the trades.
Benjamin: [Laughs] Yeah. We were also on location too, because where the trailers and everything were, it was like 20 minutes away from the set. So once you’re there, you’re kind of there, and everyone’s there. That really lent itself to a lot of bonding because everyone’s all together.
There’s Something Wrong With the Children will be released on digital and on demand on January 17. It will then premiere on MGM+ on March 17.