The Good Son: Macaulay Culkin-starring horror thriller returns in a feature-packed Blu-ray release
When Joseph Ruben‘s The Good Son was released in 1993, the freak factor that helped the studio marketing team sell the film was having little Kevin from the Home Alone movies appear as a burgeoning serial killer. And that kinky gimmick certainly worked to get the film the attention it needed to sell tickets. But it also worked against the film, with critics already poised to decimate the movie based on the casting, citing it as unsavory for making such a beloved child star as Macaulay Culkin a bloodthirsty, ice-cold killer, uttering guttersnipe threats (“Hey Mark…don’t f**k with me!”) and committing all manner of mayhem.
It’s a shame that time has forgotten the film, relegating it to the pop culture dump bin where it has pretty much remained ever since. But now Kino Lorder has dragged the movie up from the depths and, now removed from the zeitgeist, it’s a marvelous opportunity for audiences to rediscover it and note just how effective a thriller it is: gorgeously shot, effectively acted and tautly directed by one of the most undervalued suspense directors alive.
The movie stars a very young, very cute Elijah Wood as Mark, a little boy whose mother dies of cancer in the opening sequence and whose father (David Morse) ships him off to his brother’s looming New England home to stay while he wraps up business in Japan. There, he is welcomed by his uncle (Daniel Hugh Kelly) and aunt (Wendy Crewson) – who themselves had lost a child the year prior – as well as his cousin Henry (Culkin), who seems kind and welcoming but who is, as we find out fairly quickly, a stark-raving-mad psychopath.
As Mark mourns his mother and assimilates into his extended family dynamic, he is receptive to his cousin’s overtures of play, the pair acting like brothers. But when Henry acts out by causing a 20-car pile-up and murdering a dog, Mark is revolted and distances himself. Henry responds by threatening to murder his sister (played by Culkin’s real sister Quinn) and psychologically toying with Mark before turning his mania on his own, loving mother.
An obvious tip of the hat to the novel, play and film The Bad Seed, The Good Son‘s screenplay by British author Ian McEwan, was set to go to camera with unknown kids in the lead until Culkin’s now disgraced, then powerful, father Kit fell in love with the project and refused to let his son star in Home Alone 2 unless 20th Century Fox allowed him to star in the picture. The decision was a good one as Culkin is chilling without even trying. In Home Alone and the earlier Uncle Buck, part of Culkin’s appeal was that the child actor seemed wise beyond his years, smarter than the adults around him and infinitely resourceful. That lazy-lidded intellect is used to disarming effect here, with his soft, baby-like cuteness rendered grotesque in light of the evil acts he commits. His co-star Wood is even better, a tormented innocent who fiercely wants to protect his extended family from the monster he knows hides inside his cousin. Matching the children’s performances is Canadian actress Wendy Crewson, who is stunning as Henry’s mother, still savaged by grief at the earlier loss of her other son and slowly, surely coming the realization that her surviving boy is just not right.
The Good Son is a genuinely upsetting movie, a sickly, disturbing experience that refuses to pander to gore and rather exploits its marvelous locations, with its snowy frozen ponds and roaring seaside cliffs, to create a brooding, Gothic aura of psychological decay. The fact that movie is unsparing in its portrait of juvenile evil is exactly why critics recoiled, though Culkin’s presence in the relatively low budget movie paid off and the movie did extremely well internationally at the box office.
Kino Lorber should be commended for ensuring that The Good Son gets a proper revisit, with their flawless HD transfer and wealth of cast and crew interview,s including the brilliant Ruben, cinematographer John Lindley and actors Morse, Crewson and Kelly. Each of them tell tales praising the talent in front and behind the camera and all of them cite the fact that making the movie was a genuinely eerie experience; shot in chronological order, even the children stopped playing together as they sunk deeper into their grim character dynamic.
The Good Son is not a fun movie. But it’s an absolutely first rate horror film that deserves a serious re-appraisal.