27 March 2006 | cosmic_quest
Dark insight into sociopathic children
I think part of the reason why 'The Good Son' is barely remembered is because it deals with a side to humanity that no-one really wants to accept in that not all children are sweet little innocents, pure as the driven snow. It's not very comfortable watching a film that shows sociopaths-- people born without the ability to feel guilt and empathise with others-- are born, not made and their dangerous traits are apparent even in childhood. 'The Good Son' revolves around Mark, a motherless boy of twelve who is sent to stay with his Uncle Wallace, Aunt Susan and two cousins, twelve-year-old Henry and six-year-old Connie. At first, Mark revels in the visit that takes his mind off his recent bereavement but he soon starts to realise that Henry is a sociopath whose parents are blind to his dark, violent side. It is a film that pulls no punches in just how malevolent Henry is and how easily he will pick off anyone who dares to interfere with his twisted sense of fun.
Macaulay Culkin was excellent as the angelic-looking Henry whose boyish cuteness hide his true nature and his performance here proves he could have been one of the few child actors who graduated into a successful young adult actor had his personal life not been such a mess. It really was chilling seeing the child I was so used to seeing in comedies being so emotionally cold. But it is Elijah Wood's Mark who gives the film heart. Young Wood, only eleven years old when he filmed this, delivered a great performance as a young boy faced with the awful truth and desperate to stop Henry while juggling his grief over losing his mother. The scene where Mark is convinced Henry has poisoned the food is a perfect example of how Wood portrayed Mark's desperation, hysteria and helplessness in the face of his cousin's evil.
However, one of the flaws of the film is that is a bit choppy, jumping from scene-to-scene without giving you a feel for the other characters, which is a shame because this is one film where you do need to have an understanding of just how Henry's nature affects all those around him and how he gets away with it all. I read the novelisation of the film by Todd Strasser before seeing the film so it's all the more noticeable for me. The book not only gives greater insight into Mark's budding fraternal friendship with Connie and his need to seek a mother in Susan but it also shows Susan's growing awareness to the monster Henry is and how she feels when she is made to choose between Mark and her murderous child.
Overall, this film is enjoyable enough for a psychological thriller (although a few TV detective shows have done this idea in a slicker way) and it is nice to see a film that doesn't take a softly-softly attitude when dealing with the matter of children who kill. However, the ending was a bit of a cop-out as there could have been so many other avenues to explore had things ended differently for Henry (what should be done with sociopathic children? How do decent, loving families deal with such a child?). Those who do expect a bit more from their films will probably be disappointed.