At an army base in Holland, helicopter pilot John Gisberts (Peter Faber) spends more time spying on his unruly kids than on military manouvres. His dejected wife, Danny (Geert de Jong) is at war with nymphet daughter, Madelon (Akkemay), seemingly set on seducing her handsome boyfriend, Dennis (Erik Koningsberger). Eldest son Thijs (Frank Schaafsma) is a rebellious punk, blowing stuff up around the house while his younger siblings, Jan-Julius (Pepijn Zomer) and Valentijn (Olivier Zomer) are prone to all sorts of pranks, from letting the air out of daddy’s tires to substituting urine for a bottle of wine. An anarchic situation escalates to outrageous levels when the kids discover dad plans to pack them off to a strict boarding school. One night they transport their sleeping parents to the woods then barricade themselves in the house. A Home Alone-style siege ensues.
Known as Army Brats on some international prints, though the original title translates as Little Darlings, Schatjes! is either the most anarchic children’s film ever made or a subversive anti-military, faintly anti-American satire. Foul language, which includes swearing kiddies, frequent nudity courtesy of cult Dutch teen star Akkemay (who bears a striking resemblance to Reese Witherspoon), a scene of shower sex and bursts of slapstick violence indicate this was not intended as straight family fare, though you can never tell with the Dutch. Nevertheless, the film’s sympathies lie with the mischief-making youngsters rather than their increasingly exasperated parents. John and Danny Gisberts are painted as inept, self-absorbed hypocrites who more or less get what they deserve, whereas the beneath their outwardly rowdy behaviour, the Gisbert children share a warm, loving bond. After an initially antagonistic relationship, Thijs and Madelon step confidently into their roles as surrogate parents to their younger brothers.
Director Ruud van Hemert keeps things fairly ambiguous, displaying neither an explicitly liberal or conservative agenda. Nor does he hint that the breakdown between parents and kids is endemic of a wider problem in society, with somewhat softens its punch as satire. While the film never quite approaches the transgressive levels of the Spanish horror film Who Can Kill a Child? (1976), it comes pretty close after the army lay siege to the house and the children arm themselves with daddy’s surplus firearms and explosives. Far more exciting and better staged than similar scenes in Home Alone, the siege is equal parts comedic and suspenseful as a gun-toting five year old demands chocolate from an understandably flustered soldier.
The film lurches into the absurd with a pop musical fantasy wherein Dennis croons his love for Madelon, complete with a burst of candy-coloured lighting, but for the most part events are not depicted as a lark but properly unsettling as the kids gradually realise how deep a mess they are in. Meanwhile John and Danny devolve into near-homicidal child-hating lunatics. A more mainstream film would have contrived a reconciliation between parents and children but Schatjes! opts for a nightmare climax drenched in blue hues and involving an axe-wielding John that would not be out of place in a horror film. A postscript parodies American Graffiti (1973) with details of what happened to the kids afterwards, but remarkably there was a sequel called Mama is boos (1986).