The Good Son is as misleading a title as any, as none of the children in the film are particularly good. The film works in one sense because it does instill the viewer with some edging creepiness, but unfortunately this comes not at the skill of the semi-gifted cast but instead the director’s awry motives. The violence and chaos that occurs throughout the film is propagated by small, adolescent children who are played by actors so young they probably can’t understand the concepts behind the film. On these grounds alone, the film just doesn’t work for me.

Films like The Omen, The Exorcist, Audrey Rose, and even The Ring all involved children who took “pleasure” in committing atrocious acts of violence on innocent and unaware people. Additionally, all of these films had elements that rendered them original, compelling, and scary in their own right. The Good Son is very similar to these films in that it also involves an evil seed hellbent on wreaking havoc, but he has no clear cut method. Where most of the children in the other films mentioned are possessed by some apparition, Henry Evans (Macaulay Culkin, stone deaf) instead is just a psycho brat who’s sick of his family. This could have worked had the script been less streamlined and the production less glamorous.

Mark Evans (Elijah Wood, lending his character considerable depth) is sent to his cousin’s house soon after his mother’s death so his father (David Morse) can close “One last deal.” This element is intriguing as it adds a layer of vulnerability to Mark, and Wood truly takes flight in his role. His big blue eyes invoke a plethora of feeling, and I always find it endearing to witness a young soul with such tremendous talent. But then there’s Culkin, who can’t pull drama out of a hat. His smooth, comedic chops are nowhere to be found here and his lack of skill in this area is glaring. Had they chosen a less bankable star the film might have been deservedly grittier.

Mark and Henry’s relationship stars off as innocuous, but eventually progresses into a far more sinister realm. First, Henry introduces Mark to cigarettes. Later, they kill and bury animals with the gun that Henry constructed from rusty bolts and wire. This progresses over the course of a few days, and while I will note that the director does instill some palpable tension into these first few scenes, I truly dislike Mark’s willingness to partake in Henry’s schemes. Sure, Mark is young and impressionable, but he always fights back with the same violence that Henry inflicts. I would have much preferred a protagonist who found more pacifistic ways of bringing down the killer. That would have made for a much better son.

This is essentially a thriller that’s been done many times before but now stars unsuspecting children. I often found myself in disgust at the proceedings, and the ending was so shockingly inappropriate that I couldn’t help but laugh incessantly. It helped with the discomfort. Let’s just say that it’s literally a mother’s worst nightmare. So is this film.

Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.

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