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‘The Lost Children’ Review: A Lynchian Mystery That Stirs Up Childhood Nightmares



In the opening scene of Michèle Jacob’s debut feature, a father carries a sleeping little girl to bed and tenderly tucks her in. It’s only when she wakes up that her nightmare begins.

The girl wakes up in an old house near the woods, but her father has mysteriously disappeared, apparently leaving her and her three siblings to fend for themselves. For the rest of The Lost Children (Les Enfants perdus), world-premiering at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, the kids experience the sort of bizarre, unexplainable phenomena that could only be the product of young imaginations. Or are they?

Lost Children

The Bottom Line

Will revive your childhood nightmares.

Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Proxima Competition)
Cast: Iris Mirzabekiantz, Liocha Mirzabekiantz, Louis Litt Magis, Lohen Van Houstte
Director-screenwriter: Michele Jacob

1 hour 23 minutes

At first, the children are not terribly alarmed by their circumstances. They do the sorts of things that kids do, like play Truth or Dare and help themselves to a bottle of booze. “I like the smell,” one comments after taking a swig. “Sometimes, dad smelled like that when he came to kiss us goodnight,” another points out, in the sort of seemingly throwaway line that clearly has ramifications.

Not that the Belgian filmmaker, who also scripted, is interested in providing easy answers. For much of its running time, The Lost Children has the ominous atmosphere of a slow-burn horror film. The children spot a forbidding house on the other side of the woods. One of them peels fading wallpaper to reveal a keyhole and finds an eye peering at her from the other side. Another sees a fleeting image of an adult touching the back of her neck, and later discovers that she has a bad bruise there.

The things that go bump in the night are eventually shown more explicitly, including animal-like eyes glowing in the dark and the loud growling of some kind of creature. “Monsters don’t exist” becomes the mantra of the younger children, but it’s clear they don’t truly believe what they’re chanting.

Their terror soon becomes more pronounced. “The forest doesn’t want us to leave and the house is haunted,” one of them announced. The oldest girl, 10-year-old Audrey (Iris Mirzabekiantz, demonstrating tremendous screen presence) attempts to explore the woods, only to encounter a mysterious tunnel leading to a window where she sees several people in a room attending to a seemingly unconscious woman. To add even further to the film’s David Lynch vibe, all of them are wearing electrodes on their heads.

This is, as you’ve figured out by now, an elliptical film of mystery, with relevant information doled out only sparingly. It eventually becomes apparent that the children’s mother had left, in one way or another, and that their father no longer wanted to return to the house. “It made him sad,” one of them points out.

For viewers more comfortable with clearer-cut narratives, the enigmatic proceedings may prove frustrating. But the writer-director orchestrates the proceedings with such visual finesse and tonal control that they remain compelling, and the concise running time prevents impatience from setting in. There are also amusing touches throughout, as when the kids find the courage to venture into the woods and equip themselves with homemade weapons by taping kitchen utensils to sticks. And there’s a visual flourish near the conclusion that is stunning in its simplicity.

The quartet of child actors — Iris and Liocha Mirzabekiantz, Louis Litt Magis and Lohen Van Houstte — go through their demanding paces beautifully, their highly expressive faces conveying the terror of things that may involve more realistic scenarios than the boogeyman.

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