Color, 1993, 87 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Starring Macaulay Culkin, Elijah Wood, Wendy Crewson, David Morse, Daniel Hugh Kelly Kino Lorber (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Fox (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Anyone who watched movies in the '90s has some familiarity with the flood of adult-targeted thrillers about something evil lurking inside the ideal American lifestyle, with everyone from nannies to neighbors to roommates upending happy families on movie screens from coast to coast. One of the prime specialists in the form was Joseph Ruben, who had delivered a pair of bona fide cult classics in the '80s with Dreamscape and The Stepfather and delivered a glossy, slasher-tinged updating of the women in peril formula with Sleeping with the Enemy, a key entry in Julia Roberts' rise to superstardom. Two years after that 1991 hit he delivered another beautifully shot, pulpy thriller with The Good Son, which brought a modern spin to the long-running killer kid subgenre that ran from The Bad Seed through Devil Times Five and Bloody Birthday. The film ended up being one of the most controversial thrillers of the decade due to the casting of Macaulay Culkin, who had become America's favorite cute kid with Home Alone. Here he became a pint-sized murderous psychopath, spitting out f-bombs and going into some very dark places that had many upset parents protesting the casting of a young actor who appealed to audiences far too young to handle this very R-rated shocker. The widely-reported demanding behavior of Culkin's father, the rewrites that forced out screenwriter Ian McEwan (The Comfort of Strangers), and the timing of the notorious U.K. murder of young James Bulger that scuttled the film's theatrical release there all combined to give the film some very grim coverage at the time, with critics following suit and gasping in horror that someone would put Culkin in a film like this. However, it's the kind of unsettling, strange film that lingers in the mind a long time after you watch it.
After his mother dies from a battle with cancer, young Mark (Wood) is sent to live with his aunt Susan (Crewson) and uncle Wallace (Kelly) while his father, Jack (Morse), gets their affairs in order and does business overseas. Susan is still grieving from the death of their youngest child in a bathtub drowning accident, but the couple has two older children, Henry (Culkin) and Connie (Quinn Culkin). Mark and his cousin get along well at first, with Henry's tendency for mischief starting with kicking games under the table and taunting a neighborhood dog. However, it soon becomes clear that Henry is deeply unstable and has violent tendencies, including a horrific prank involving throwing a dummy off a bridge into a busy highway. Mark soon comes to believe that Henry is capable of murder, but no one seems to believe him.
Skillfully assembled and well acted (with Wood a particular standout), this definitely isn't a film to everyone's taste; it doesn't deliver much in the way of a body count, instead honing in on pathological behavior and portraying a family in denial about the evil in its midst. Of the adults only Crewson gets a lot of material to work with, and she acquits herself well as an emotionally wounded mother forced into horrific circumstances during a finale that goes way over the top but certainly leaves a lasting impression.
The HD transfer looks pretty solid if modest, about on par with what you see on other titles from the same period; there hasn't been a ton of clean up so a bit of debris can be seen at times, but the gorgeous scenery still fares well on a large screen and the colors are very natural and healthy. A few shots with stark contrast involving bare tree branches and hard clothing outlines have some hard borders that look like edge enhancement, though not on the scale of your average Universal catalog title. The DTS-HD MA English stereo track reflects the original mix heard in theaters, mainly giving some nice channel separation for the gorgeous score by Elmer Bernstein. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. A new combo interview featurette with Ruben and cinematographer John Lindley (22m56s) goes into detail about the making of the film, including the rapport between the two stars (which apparently grew more distant as the material darkened), the difficulty in finding a cliff location for the climax, and the conflicted feelings today about the film's subject matter. Next is a combined interview with Crewson and Kelly (15m51s), who cover some of the earlier casting choices before the film was delayed (including Mary Steenburgen in the mother role), the challenges of doing film productions with child actors in the leads, the dark atmosphere on the set due to the storyline and chilly locations, the probable issues of having Culkin's real sister cast in the film, and the very high physical and emotional demands of shooting the final scene. Finally, Morse appears for an interview (6m14s) about his transition from TV to film at the time and his fond memories of working with Wood without having to go into the "dark stuff." The theatrical trailer is included along with bonus ones for two other evil kid movies, The Pit and Jennifer.