Monday 4 January 2010

The Good Son (1993)

It was interesting to revisit The Good Son, Joseph Rubens’s thriller from the early '90s. The film was one of many “…from hell” thrillers of its period; movies such as John Schlesinger’s tenant-from-hell Pacific Heights (1990), Barbet Schroeder’s flatmate-from-hell Single White Female (1992), Curtis Hanson’s nanny-from-hell The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and Rubens’s own husband-from-hell Sleeping With the Enemy (1991) practically came to constitute their own sub-genre at this time. The Good Son featured Macaulay Culkin as the son-from-hell (some may argue that he’d already played that role in every movie he’d starred in up to this point, but there we go), a manipulative, homicidal tyke named Henry who torments his cousin Mark (Elijah Wood) when the latter comes to stay with Henry’s family following his own mother’s death. Unfortunately, The Good Son appeared, with very poor timing, around the time of the James Bulger murder and media moral panic about the influence of “video nasties”; its UK release was held back for a few years and the film was finally issued straight-to-video. Seen today, the movie seems tame indeed; but, though far too short and obviously compromised (Ian McEwan disowned the script, though still retains the credit), it was more substantial than I remembered. The skilful Ruben creates a tense atmosphere and the themes - sibling jealousy, bereavement, the reluctance of parents to recognise their children’s potential for bad behaviour - are interesting. Culkin’s work is a bit erratic, but he manages a few effective moments of menace - especially when threatening his young sister (played, in a intriguingly morbid touch, by Culkin’s real-life sister Quinn), though it’s Wood’s soulful performance that anchors the movie. No lost classic, then, but a little-seen film that rewards another look.