There’s a reason humanity refers to adolescence as “the formative years” — everything we experience, everything we engage with, shapes who we become as adults. The things we love, the things we fear, all of them are born of a period in our lives when, biologically, nothing makes sense, everything is constantly shifting, and we don’t know better. In the Middle Ages, there was a phrase “the time between dog and wolf,” a means of parents warning their kids to be home before dark, when they could still tell the difference between safety and threats. As kids, we don’t always know which something is until it’s too late and by that point the bad things have us by the throat. In a way, that’s what writer/director Zach Passero explores in his animated feature The Weird Kidz, having its world premiere at the 2022 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. He explores a world in which kids can’t tell the difference between dog and wolf because their parents don’t care to warn them.
Three adolescent friends — Dug, Fatt, and Mel (Tess Passero, Brian Ceely, and Glenn Bolton respectively) — go off with Dug’s older brother Wyatt (Ellar Coltrane) and his girlfriend Mary (Sydney O’Donnell) on an overnight trip to Jerusalem National Park. The plan is to drink some beers, light some fireworks, and make some memories. What they don’t realize is crawling the grounds that night is a legendary creature known as The Night Child, and these unsuspecting kids are ripe for the picking.
From the jump, The Weird Kidz is a vibe. That vibe? A concoction of ‘80s horror The Gate (1987) and ‘90s mind-flipping animation showcase Liquid Television, speaking directly to this ‘80s kid and immediately setting me on edge. Passero opens on an idyllic-looking town or that the characters we meet are the trio, young, hanging out at a convenience store — each of these immediately sets a knowing latchkey kid on edge, triggering that strange sense of freedom that came from mostly being left alone by one’s parents and the terrible danger that lurked around every corner because of it. Films like Gremlins (1984) and The Gate made it clear that things which wanted to kill you, creatures of unknowable horrors, can find you where you live. This unease permeates Kidz, so even the fun road trip prologue proves disquieting, and not just because Fatt and Mel keep leering at Mary’s breasts peeking out from her low-neck tee or the continuous sibling bullshit flinging between Dug and Wyatt. If danger can get you at home or where you hang out, then what’s waiting for you in the cold, isolated dark of a national park? Based on the press notes, Passero found inspiration from The Gate, Gremlins, Liquid Television, and other materials of his youth, something which any audience member of a certain age will automatically recognize, making the shorthand his uses to immediately unsettle and then maintain until the blood begins to flow.
Evidently, Weird Kidz, is a project that took roughly eight years for Passero to complete, developing, writing, and animating mainly by himself around raising two children with his wife and creative partner. With this in mind, Weird Kidz isn’t just a throwback adventure us latchkey kids grew up on, it can be also viewed as a way to immortalize a period in which cellphones didn’t exist, the internet wasn’t widespread, and tall tales like The Night Child could persist in a community. Horror isn’t just of the things that want to kill you, but of the things right in front of you that would hurt you given the chance between themselves and you. For a child, adults are the saving grace, the protectors, the line of defense between a cruel world and themselves. But for us latchkey kids, the parents were gone and it was up to us to manage. Through bits and pieces, Passero informs the audience how each of the five kids are on their own in one way or another, requiring them to circle the proverbial wagons themselves with no cavalry, save for that which they make, coming to the rescue. One read of this is a darkly nostalgic view of our youth. Another, though, seems like a promise to his own: “This story of my imagination will not come to pass for you.”
Much like The Goonies (1985), which saw a band of misfits summon their strengths to survive against three murderous criminals (seriously, what was up with acceptable kids entertainment back then?), Passero’s heroes are fallible, sexist, and primarily pubescent, but they are also fiercely loyal, supportive, and loving. They are the family they make when left to their own devices, placed in a situation in which the same skills that made them outcasts turn them to heroes. For all the horrors these kids endure, they are not reduced by the story in the process; instead, they are given the chance to rise up time and again. Kids are bound to go through some kind of trauma for no one gets out of adolescence unscathed, but it’s who they become upon facing the fire that matters. As a result, one can’t help but feel a great love coursing from Passero through Weird Kidz, even when one act of violence after another, one degradation after another, and one seemingly hopeless turn after another, occurs.
If films like Werewolf By Night (2022) can channel the classic Universal monster films, PG: Psycho Goreman (2020) can channel that Amblin vibe, and Porno (2019) can remind of the original Satanic Panic days, then why can’t The Weird Kidz channel that Beavis and Butthead-meets-House II: The Second Story (1987) with a little bit of … well, I won’t spoil that bit. Suffice it to say that The Weird Kidz has a lot more going on under the hood than one may expect from a lo-fi animated adventure, satisfying the audience’s bloodlust while providing an old fashioned creature feature in the process. If this is what Passero can deliver after eight years raising prepubescent kids, we’re left to wonder what the teen years will inspire.
Screening during the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival 2022.
For more information, head to the official The Weird Kidz BHFF film webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
Categories: In Theaters, Reviews
Leave a Reply