Stephen King stories have a history of being difficult to adapt to the screen, but the filmmakers behind Bonfire Films – located in King’s home state of Maine – have a go at it with Suffer the Little Children. The climax of the story has some strong content, indeed, and this short film doesn’t shy away from delivering the goods.
Anne Bobby stars as Ms. Emily Sidley, a friendless elementary school teacher with no family and a chronically bad back. She runs her classroom with a firm, disciplinarian attitude. One day, she asks a student named Robert (Andrew Lyndaker) to use the vocabulary word “tomorrow” in a sentence, and he responds with “Tomorrow something bad will happen.” As she writes the next word on the chalkboard, she sees the reflection of his face in her glasses and it seems to distort into something monstrous. Some of her other students later seem to transform their faces in a similar manner, and when she questions Robert about whether or not this is all a game, the stakes rise until tragedy strikes. But is this “game” is only in her mind or is it real?
This short film is part of Stephen King’s Dollar Baby program, in which the author grants selected filmmakers, theater producers, and students noncommercial rights to adapt one of his short stories for $1. The husband-and-wife team of director Corey Norman and writer Haley Norman deliver a rather faithful adaptation with a few minor tweaks.
Haley Norman’s script is lean enough to keep things moving along at a steady clip and fleshed out enough to show us the lonely, empty life of the aging Ms. Sidley. Corey Norman’s direction steadily builds the suspense and sense of peril to a riveting climax. He also shows a keen cinematic eye, such as how he contrasts Ms. Sidley’s sunlit, colorful classroom with darker visions in the school’s hallways.
Both practical and CGI effects are on display here, and the former are usually more impressive than the latter. Rather than mentioning spoilers, I’ll keep things vague, but I do want to address the admirable practical transformation effects along with the skillful cinematography and editing that shows viewers enough to get the creepy effect without lingering too long and exposing the magic. During the climax, it seems that CGI effects were relied on more heavily, and at times they seem rather obvious.
I’ve mentioned the climax a few times now. I won’t spoil anything by describing what happens, but I will say that it is the strongest part of the film for me, with impressive cinematography and editing, well-thought-out shots, and a splendid, vigorous score from Anthony Lusk-Simone that heightens the calamity.
The one area in which I have some issues with Suffer the Little Children is in the performances. Many Gruesome Magazine readers may remember Anne Bobby in her role as Lori Winston from Nightbreed (1990); she also starred in Bonfire Film’s full-length feature The Hanover House (2014). Her performance here seems a bit overplayed at times; for example, when Ms. Sidley sharply disciplines her students or when she runs from a fright. Bobby is most effective in scenes where gives a more restrained performance.
Andrew Lyndake’s interpretation of Robert seems off the mark to me. Lyndake seems a bit stiff in his delivery and not at all creepy or threatening, though his character should be. Ms. Sidley keeps Robert after class to scold him for his behavior, asking, “It this a joke? . . . I’d like to know what you think is so funny.” Unfortunately none of Lyndake’s facial reactions show a hint of a smile to warrant her line of questioning. When he does smile as the conversation continues, it’s not convincing. Neither is his delivery when he gives some chilling information to the teacher. I don’t want to knock a child actor very much, and Lyndake appeared previously in Bonfire Film’s short Tickle (2014), so I assume that this is the performance that the Normans wanted for their vision of Robert.
Beth Sommerville gives a notable turn as Mrs. Crossen, although her character’s skills as a band teacher seem to be lacking in a scene that comes across as comical but oddly placed. Dan Domingues is effective in his role as Mr. Hanning, the school’s principal. Alexa Reddy as Jane comes across as the most natural of the child actors and gives a nice performance in her scenes.
Overall, Corey Norman and Haley Norman have composed a creepy horror short with many splendid elements with Suffer the Little Children. They have successfully done what many other filmmakers failed to do, and that is to successfully adapt a Stephen King story to the screen. Now that Bonfire Films and the Normans are on my radar, I plan to seek out their earlier efforts and follow their future output.
Suffer the Little Children: (3 / 5)