By RICKY J. DUARTE
The recent surge of reboots based on classic Stephen King stories and films has inevitably led us back to dusty Nebraska cornfields and blood-soaked, murderous children. It was only a matter of time before CHILDREN OF THE CORN was ready for the harvest.
In the new adaptation, gone are the binding shackles of religious fanaticism that have tied the franchise down all these years, here replaced with a comparison to the fact that, well, frankly, the last several generations haven’t exactly set the youth of the world up for success. The new film is best viewed as a brand-new interpretation of what’s lurking behind the original text. Just like “He Who Walks Behind the Rows,” it’s the unseen themes that are driving this fresh, modern narrative.
But how do you take a story that’s been told again and again and again (ten times before, to be exact) and make it relevant to today? I got the chance to ask the film’s writer/director Kurt Wimmer (EQUILIBRIUM, ULTRAVIOLET) that very question.
Leading the way are two remarkably talented powerhouse young actresses, Kate Moyer, who plays Eden in the film, and Elena Kampouris, who plays Bo. They, too, joined in on the enlightening conversation…
RJD: Kurt, this film is very of this time and has a very modern feel. Why did you select CHILDREN OF THE CORN and why now? What drew you to it?
KW: For exactly the reason you just pointed out. Because Stephen king created a story that was so elastic—if you read the short story, it’s very unspecific. I mean, it’s Nebraska and it’s Gatlin and there’s specificity in that, but this is the power, I think ,of Stephen King, that he doesn’t write niche stories you and three of your friends can get into. Everybody can relate to THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, everybody can relate to THE GREEN MILE, you know, and that’s his power, it’s that he writes things that are kind of crazy, but everybody can relate to them. And because this story was a very relatable and very elastic, adaptable template, I looked at it and I said, “OK, the original story is about religious fanatics. The kids are religious fanatics and their parents are corrupt and they have to be tuned up a little bit by the kids, for lack of a better term. But really, that’s not what it’s about. It’s not about religion, it’s about generational conflict between young people who don’t have the agency to change their world, and older people who do change the world, and the future, by virtue of changing the world, for people who are going to live in it. Whereas the people that are changing it are not gonna be there.
I look around today and I see people like Gretta Thunberg, etcetera, who are really politically aware and politically active, and who give a damn, in a way—and because of the internet and the access to the internet—in a way they weren’t when I was a kid (or when the original movie was made) and I was like, this movie is about children, who are representative of the future, and corn, which is representative of the earth—this is tailor-made to talk about kids wanting to assume their own political agency in a world where adults are consistently denying them that. Now, I’m not saying that twelve-year-olds should get to vote, sorry Kate, [Kate laughs], but there comes a point and I think they make some interesting arguments, and I thought, “This is perfect.” And again, it’s King’s genius that he created something that is so malleable.
It’s like ROMEO & JULIET; these stories can be told over and over again with each generation. Also, there’s this: there are plenty of subgenres—plenty of slasher movies out there. Lots and lots and lots of them. TERRIFIER, you know, HALLOWEEN, blah, blah, blah. There is not strong subgenre of children killing adults. There’s not. There’s one, it’s called CHILDREN OF THE CORN. VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED IS ONE that I really loved—the original. But that’s it. So it’s an original story. If kids today—seventeen-year-olds who, most of them want to kill their parents, if they want to see a movie about killing their parents they gotta go see this. They don’t have a wide array of choices to do it. You can’t say to them, go watch the 1984 film because they’re gonna be like, “What the Hell is this? It’s just a bunch of dudes in Mennonite clothing—I don’t understand. I don’t get it.” So I wanted to say, “Well, let’s retell it through the lens of what kids today might think. That’s my long answer to your very short question.
RJD: That was a great answer, though—an excellent answer. You did a great job of expounding on the themes the film is presenting. Kate, I’ve a question for you: You give us a phenomenal performance. You’re already getting rave reviews for this. This was filmed when you were even younger than you are now. How do you approach a role with such maturity?
KM: I was eleven when I filmed this and the day that I left to go film this movie Covid blew up. It’s like, it didn’t exist and then the moment we were leaving it was just there.
KM: Pretty much! That and also, like, having to be away from my family and go to a new continent on the other side of the world, it helped me really get into character, but also all the work that Kurt, Elena and I put into our characters, how much time we spent offscreen, really like, diving deep like, what’s going on in their brain and why they’re thinking this way.
RJD: What moment are you most proud of?
KM: There’s a moment where Eden, she actually shows a bit of her child-like innocence near the end where she breaks this façade that she’s put up and she starts crying. I didn’t actually mean to do this this day. I don’t know what happened, but it just happened and it felt right for the scene. I felt like it really helped show that in this moment she can’t hide her emotions anymore.
KW: If I can just interject briefly, this is when she realizes everything she’s done has come to naught, and Elena (Bo) has won and she apologizes to this monster who may be a manifestation of her id, you know, it’s an extension of her in many ways. She looks at him and she says, “I’m sorry.” And I remember very clearly when I was watching this, I started crying too because I was so moved by it and surprised by it. I felt so grateful for the performance. “What did I do to deserve this?” Thank you, Kate.
RJD: It’s a great moment because it’s unexpected and while Eden, you know, is going on a killing spree, and she is fanatical, she’s been through hell. She’s been through a lot that got her there. So it reminds us of the humanity behind her. Elena, you play a role that is sort of between being a child and being an adult. Where do you approach a character like that in this story? Because you being torn between these two worlds, you do a wonderful, excellent job with it.
EK: Thanks, Ricky, I think you said it perfectly. She is torn between two worlds. I love how Kurt was saying, is this all a dream? Is this all a hallucination, like, is this all just the afterlife? There are so many theories that could sprout from this and any one of them could work. It’s really interesting with Bo because she’s on the precipice of becoming a woman, you know, she’s about to leave this world and go off to Boston and be a scientist. But she’s definitely town and pulled back by the guilt that she’s wrestling with because she’s leaving behind her brother in a dysfunctional world and decaying corn that’s swallowing up this small, one horse town that she loves. It’s the fabric of her childhood. This community means something to her and she does feel an ownership—a pride—about it. A loyalty. So that’s what’s making her go back and try to fix things, but, you know, unfortunately there’s a domino effect from that intention—a good intention—and Pandora’s box opens and stuff hits the fan. But it’s an interesting character and a fun arc to play. The movie [takes place in a] short amount of time, yet she ages quite a bit by the end of this movie. She ages, like, a lifetime after what she goes through.
KW: You know, there’s a deeper layer which I’ve never spoken about. I didn’t tell Elena about this, or anybody, about this, actually. It’s why I designed her character that way, if I can say that. I mean, we designed it together when we hit the set, for sure, because it changed day by day, but a big part of it was that genre films like this…we know there’s a phenomenon of the “final girl.” There is no phenomenon of the “final guy.” There’s just not. And there has never been, really, a very successful horror film (although I don’t think this is a horror film) that was lead by a male that I can think of. It has always been females. And I believe it’s because of this precise thing—it’s why I made this character. It is mostly young women on the verge of leaving home that really love the ride of horror films. Young women drive the horror audience.
They’re the absolute drivers of the horror audience and I’ve always believed that it was because they have this moment of excitement in their life where they’re like, “I’ve had this life, I’m seventeen, I’m about to leave home, I’m kind of scared and I’m kind of excited.” A horror film allows me to explore those things in a theater. “I’m scared, things are coming at me, but yet I survive.” There’s a reason, and I may be wrong about this, but there’s a reason why young women in particular drive horror box offices. I’ve always believed that was the case and that was why I made her the way she was. It may be actually speaking the subtext now that you think about it but that’s what I always meant because this is exactly what she is she’s a young lady on the verge of departing from her comfortable nest of her life and going into the unknown. She’s excited to do it but she’s also dragged back into it. And then she finds herself in a horror film.
EK: That’s what I love, that you had that with Kate’s character. She’s also on the precipice of going from childhood to being a teenager and she’s being left behind in this world but you’ve got these two headstrong girls. They’re both headstrong characters, you know, and they’re both at odds with one another. They’re opposite but they actually have some stuff in common as well if you dig a little deeper. But what’s really fun as well, Ricky, is those leadership roles. Trying to grab for the leadership roles, and who’s right and who’s in the power position. There’s this constant tug of war going on between the two of us, those scenes were so much fun to shoot with Kate because there’s always some kind of tactic being implemented or a manipulation. Mind games that we got to flesh out together. So it was very rich with that. It’s percolating.
RJD: The original film is following two adults—probably in their 30’s—and the female character, Vicki, played by Linda Hamilton, is not given much agency or control. She’s really bossed around a lot and then tied to a cross for the whole thing. Here we have two young people leading this film and you’re both young women. How does that feel? This new era of horror that is showcasing women in a different light?
KM: I feel like it’s important. In the world we’re growing up in I feel like it’s important for young girls to know they have a voice. I feel like it’s important for them to know they can be in power as well. Being able to lead this movie with Elena was really important because, like, all these decisions that these characters make are effecting everything else, it’s not like, they make a decision and everyone’s like, “Well, OK, maybe…”. They really impact the story and I feel like that’s important for going on in the future.
KW: You have a voice and you have a sickle! [Everyone laughs.] Just in case nobody is listening to the voice you can always being the sickle into play.
RJD: That’s brilliant. Kate, you have now appeared in two Stephen King adaptations. [IT and CHILDREN OF THE CORN]. Elena, if you were to be involved in another Stephen King adaptation which one would it be?
EK: This comes up quite a bit, Ricky, and I’m just sticking with the same answer: I love The Shining! I just love that psychological horror and that build and that terrifying ending, oh my gosh. That’s one of my faves. Of many, I mean I love all of Stephen King’s stuff.
RJD: I could see you in ten years playing Wendy in a heartbeat! [Moreso from the novel.]
KW: I think you should put it out there that rather than going back to something that’s already been done and remaking it, I think you should put it out there that Stephen King should write a new Stephen King story based on these two young ladies about what progressed after the events on Ryleston in 2023. And then we’ll knock that one out of the park.
RJD: I think that’s brilliant. Kurt is there another Stephen King story you’d like to tell?
KW: Listen, Stephen King writes faster than we can read, so I haven’t read everything he’s done. But we know many of the great ones have been done already by really great directors. Darabont, obviously Kubrick, so I would defer and not try to do something that’s already been done perfectly again. I mean, De Palma! Look at CARRIE. You can’t do CARRIE better than it’s been done, you just can’t.
RJD: And also Carpenter with CHRISTINE. In terms of CHILDREN OF THE CORN, do you see this as retconning a franchise and is there a desire for you to continue the story?
KW: I would say, no because the story’s been told. I would aways resist [sequels]. I did a movie called EQUILIBRIUM and people always say to me, “Is there every gonnna be a sequel? Do you wanna do a sequel?” And I’m like, “No, the story’s told and it would ruin it to do a sequel. I think this movie says everything that it set out to say. It’s a bitter-sweet movie. You know, the girl and her monster—if he’s real—don’t make it. There’s no happy ending here.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN began its theatrical run on March 3, and will be available on-demand and digital March 21, 2023.