The Good Son

1993, R, 87 min. Directed by Joseph Ruben. Starring Macaulay Culkin, Elijah Wood, Wendy Crewson, David Morse, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Jacqueline Brookes.

REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., Oct. 1, 1993

Like Stepfather, like Son. Well, sort of. In the latest chapter of his “Hey! There's a Psycho in the Family” series, director Ruben (The Stepfather, Sleeping With the Enemy) turns from male adult to male child as a source for mayhem. While this allows for some Oedipal exploitation, this movie is generally like Ruben's others: Model family member is really a murderous fiend. When someone suspects the truth, it's a family feud to end all family feuds. Here, we get sweet, towheaded Henry (Culkin), son to Wallace and Susan, whose other son drowned in the bathtub. (Hmmm....) When the couple gives refuge to nephew Mark (Wood), whose mother just died, Mark makes friends with Henry. Then he discovers what Henry does for fun. Uh-oh. Anyone hoping for a remake of the definitive evil offspring flick, The Bad Seed, will be disappointed by the quality of the evil here. Oh, Henry is bad, bad to the bone, but his actions carry little of the sixteen-ton portent and capital-D dread that made The Bad Seed such a hoot. Plus, Culkin is so restrained. None of Patty McCormack's overdone menace for this child star; he's an artiste. Culkin offers up his wickedness with the cool, detached air of a bureaucrat and covers his tracks with an unctuousness that suggests his role model was Eddie Haskell, not Jack the Ripper. Minus the campiness, the movie is just another of the “... from hell” films (“roommate from hell,” “temp from hell,” “nanny from hell”), albeit one which works surprisingly well. Ruben communicates quite touchingly the isolation of the grieving Susan and Mark, placing them in shots surrounded by acres of space. We see them as alone, apart, and Wood and Crewson underscore the feeling that their characters need someone to hang onto. When the threat escalates, we're acutely aware of their vulnerabilities. We feel for them and therefore fear for them. And making the protagonist a pre-teen makes the behavior so infuriating in other thrillers -- why doesn't he tell someone?! -- credible here. Mark doesn't believe anyone will believe a kid. Would you? Combine all this with Ruben's gift for staging gut-tightening suspense scenes -- there's a splendid, vertigo-inducing finale -- and you have an above-average “killer kid from hell” picture. Not The Bad Seed but not bad.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Good Son, Joseph Ruben, Macaulay Culkin, Elijah Wood, Wendy Crewson, David Morse, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Jacqueline Brookes

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