Studio: Dimension Films
Director: John Gulager
Writer: Joel Soisson
Producer: Michael Leahy
Stars: Marci Miller, Jake Ryan Scott, Mary Kathryn Bryant, Lynn Andrews, Diane Ayala Goldner, Kevin Harvey, Daria Balling, Sara Moore
Many years after the massacre in Gatlin, a survivor and her young son remain haunted by the child cult’s murderous past.
I wonder if anyone from Dimension Films remembers how they started their bad habit of rushing out DTV “Hellraiser” and “Children of the Corn” sequels purely to retain property rights. I presume the first producer to do so was caught in a legitimate quandary and said something like, “look, we don’t have time/resources to get a proper sequel/reboot in the pipe right now. Let’s pinch out a quickie and we’ll give it the attention it deserves on the next go.” The people who nodded approval likely believed this in good faith too.
When that “next go” came around though, the same person or someone else then said, “I know we planned on course correcting Hellraiser/Children of the Corn, but such and such came up. I’m afraid we’re going to have to push it again. But next time…”
Dimension thus continued eating itself in a perpetually diminishing ouroboros of making these movies only because a contractual obligation calendar told them to. The catch-22 was that the rights they were so desperate to hold onto became increasingly less valuable with each increasingly careless entry. In losing sight of their original intentions, they didn’t notice those rights devolved into nothing more than a license to continue crapping out chunder, as franchise faithful stopped hoping Dimension would return to respecting either property a long time ago.
Neither 2018’s “Hellraiser: Judgment” (review here) nor its redheaded stepsister “Children of the Corn: Runaway” are as dismal as many of their predecessors. Respective directors Gary J. Tunnicliffe and John Gulager have been around horror enough that a modicum of professionalism can be expected no matter what. Neither sequel is their franchise’s course corrector either. “Runaway” may expend mildly more effort than the usual rights-renewal rush job, yet it remains so corner cuttingly choppy that its two years spent on a shelf could have been extended indefinitely without genre entertainment missing a beat.
Ruth may be the last known survivor of the original corn children cult. Pregnant, frightened, and finally fed up, Ruth set fire to the farm after He Who Walks Behind the Rows summoned everyone else into the stalks. Ruth then gave birth to her son Aaron before beginning a new Bruce Banner life on the run.
You’d think she’d flee as far from Gatlin, Nebraska as possible. In 13 years, Ruth only made it two states south to Oklahoma. After a run-in with Johnny Law leaves her and Aaron stranded in the town of Luther, Ruth sets up temporary roots by taking a job as a mechanic and befriending a greasy spoon waitress named Sarah. Before long however, Ruth’s regular visions of murderous children and buzzing locusts suggest horror has come back to haunt her over unfinished business with the cult.
In a different movie, Marci Miller, who may remind “Friday the 13th Part 2” (review here) fans of Amy Steel, might make a formidable Final Girl. But “Children of the Corn: Runaway” doesn’t have designs on doing more than the minimum with Ruth, or anyone else for that matter. Most of “Runaway’s” slim population merely moves through disinterested motions to set up a lukewarm story misleadingly light on children, corn, scares, or excitement.
Ruth’s boss Carl has the most meat on his character’s bones, although the movie encounters difficulty determining exactly how and where he fits. Whether directed to do so or making these choices on his own, actor Lynn Andrews walks with a limp and wears a ring on a chain around his neck, both suggestions of an interesting past no one but he is privy to.
Carl doesn’t perform any actions outwardly suggesting opportunistic interest in Ruth. In a quick instance when he inadvertently spies her bending over the hood of a car in a manner open to ogling, Carl immediately gives Ruth baggy coveralls to wear. Maybe he intends to erect an obstacle to impure thoughts. Maybe Carl is simply a decent guy issuing a customary uniform. Interpretation leans toward the latter.
Later, Ruth thinks to smell her armpits before taking a trip into Carl’s office. Ruth doubles back to the bathroom for an impromptu shower in the sink, changes into her tank top, and only then hands Carl her paperwork.
Carl comments that Ruth smells good, which seems to be a first flirt. He adds that her scent is oil soap, retroactively making his remark sarcastic. Ruth exits with a blank expression best read as insulted that her attempt at making an impression didn’t have an enticing effect.
Following three establishing shots, because a cutaway of a window right after seeing the house is essential for some reason, we next jump to Ruth and Carl leaning into each other by candlelight while drinking whiskey in Ruth’s home. Whether she invited him or he invited himself, the duo makes conversation before romantically kissing. One things leads to another and then leads to undressing on the couch. Aaron’s sudden arrival on the staircase puts an end to anything further however.
When Ruth pushes him off of her, Carl does an about face into typical rude dude territory by asking what the Hell is wrong with Ruth before telling her son to get lost. Ruth dismissively tells Carl he needs to leave. Carl tells her she has a problem, prompting Ruth to elevate her suggestion to a demand.
Ruth is of course within her right to turn a consensual act into a non-consensual one whenever she wishes. Except she isn’t the one changing her mind. “Runaway” is, specifically with regard to Carl, a fairly simple persona the script can’t seem to crack. Carl isn’t misreading Ruth so much as the movie simply sends out mixed messages from its end.
If Carl’s ultimate purpose is to be a cad who fires Ruth for refusing to have sex, thus setting him up for justifiable revenge, why build the lead to this turn on Ruth proactively pursuing Carl? Wouldn’t Carl make a better villain if he were the sleaze that the movie goes out of its way to avoid establishing him as? This could have been complicated commentary on gender behavior in a more nuanced context. Instead, this is confused character construction. Like the ring and the limp that never receive explanations, it appears Carl was intended to be someone else until the writing threw up its hands in “oh whatever” surrender.
Which leads into “Runaway’s” similarly schizophrenic approach to editing. John Gulager, who both directed and edited, routinely bounces between threads whose concurrency has no narrative value. One sequence starts with Ruth storming out of Carl’s garage into a ghostly vision, cuts to Aaron watching Sarah play a prank in the diner, then returns to following Ruth as she confronts a problematic school principal. Inessential interjections like these disrupt atmospheric rhythm, and the film hiccups such disjointed moments repeatedly.
A small handful of fades to black, but one long one in particular, stick out as inconsistent with how most of the movie cuts together. It’s as though scattered transitions hide deeper excisions or gaps in available material, since the movie can’t come up with more creative options to bridge certain scenes. Gulager isn’t afraid of a hard splice during other time or scene changes, yet composes random segments in unusually erratic ways.
I can’t fathom why Gulager positions “Children of the Corn: Runaway” to encounter more difficulty than it needs to, especially when the story elects for a straightforwardly sparse route. One scene features Aaron and Sarah surveying the town from atop a high water tower. A location manager should have gotten the crew access to a roof or a ridge if they wanted this vista to be convincing. Instead, not only are Aaron and Sarah poorly digitized onto the tower in a wide shot, but their medium shot doesn’t come close to replicating what the railing really looks like. Actors are actually seated on either side of what looks to be a PVC pipe with thick twine running through it.
The filmmakers either assumed or hoped no one would notice. No one would have, if not for sore thumb shabbiness calling attention to poor details.
“Runaway” captures some of that distinct “Children of the Corn” feel with long country highways, roadside diners, spacious farmhouses, and redneck yokels. It also embodies the Dimension Films sequel sickness of only caring as little as it has to.
I initially felt myself heading toward an indifferent midrange score to reflect the movie being inoffensively average. The more I thought about it, the more I realized some of the sloppiness doesn’t have the excuse of being short on time or money. “Children of the Corn: Runaway” runs low on creative craftwork and acceptable ambitions too. Those reasons don’t deserve leniency from an audience expected to give “Children of the Corn” more attention than its stewards do.
Review Score: 45