Magazine article Screen International

Childish Games

Magazine article Screen International

Childish Games

Article excerpt

Dir: Antonio Chavarrías. Spain 2011. 95 mins

Playing childish innocence against adult guilt has been a staple of psychological horror ever since The Turn of the Screw, and it's been a reliable ploy for recent Spanish chillers - notably The Orphanage and, before that, The Devil's Backbone. Considerably less Gothic than those films, Childish Games (Dictado) could nevertheless very modestly emulate their success in sales terms, if only because it's a relatively efficient reworking of familiar tropes. But, once it's set out its initially enigmatic premise, Childish Games doesn't do much more than run through its moves to increasingly routine effect.

Childish Games finally falls short on really adult ingenuity.

After a distractingly confusing prelude involving a father and son - their identity doesn't come into focus until much later - the story kicks off by introducing us to likeable youngish couple Daniel (Botto) and Laura (Lennie), both teachers. At school, Daniel is approached by a wild-eyed man from his past, Mario (Rodríguez), who's agitated about his daughter.

Mario soon takes his own life, in a set piece that's one of the film's more effectively shocking moments, and Laura, who's desperate for a child, suggests that she and Daniel temporarily adopt the dead man's traumatised young daughter Julia (Pérez). Daniel agrees, but very reluctantly, for reasons to do with his own childhood memories: as boys, he and Mario were involved in an incident involving the death of the latter's sister Clara. As Julia moves in, bonding with Laura but definitely not with her new adoptive dad, her behaviour becomes increasingly troubling - and Daniel's becomes pretty erratic too.

Could it be that Julia is the vengeful reincarnation of the dead Clara? And who's really in danger from whom? Maybe it would be better if everyone just took a nice relaxing break in the country. …

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