The Good Son (film)
|The Good Son|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joseph Ruben|
|Produced by||Joseph Ruben|
Mary Ann Page
|Written by||Ian McEwan|
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Edited by||George Bowers|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$60.6 million|
The Good Son is a 1993 American psychological thriller film directed by Joseph Ruben and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It was written by English novelist Ian McEwan. Its story follows a young boy named Mark who, after the death of his mother, is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle while his father is away on business. While there he meets his cousin Henry, who shows signs of violent and evil behavior. It stars Macaulay Culkin, Elijah Wood, Wendy Crewson, David Morse, Daniel Hugh Kelly, and Jacqueline Brookes.
The film was produced by Joseph Ruben and Mary Ann Page and was released on September 24, 1993. It grossed $12.5 million during its opening weekend and $60.6 million worldwide, against a budget of $17 million. It received generally negative reviews and has a 26% approval rating based on 27 votes on Rotten Tomatoes.
As a 12-year-old living in New Mexico, Mark Evans has recently experienced the death of his mother, Janice. Before leaving on a business trip to Tokyo, Mark's father Jack delivers him to his uncle Wallace and aunt Susan's house in Maine, where he will stay during winter break. Mark is reintroduced after 10 years to his extended family, including his cousins Connie and Henry. Mark and Henry get along at first and Henry seems to be nice and well-mannered. However, Henry displays an abnormal fascination with death, making Mark feel uneasy.
Henry begins to display psychopathic behavior, which Mark is unable to tell Wallace and Susan about due to Henry's threats. One of his violent actions is throwing a dummy off a bridge onto the highway, causing a massive vehicle pileup. He then plans to kill Connie. Afraid something might happen to her, Mark spends the night in her room. The next morning, Mark awakens to find Henry has taken Connie ice skating. At the pond, Henry purposely throws her toward thin ice, which collapses. Connie is rescued, but ends up in a coma. Despite not believing Mark initially, Susan becomes suspicious and is able to interrupt when Henry visits Connie's room, planning to suffocate her. Susan then finds a rubber duck Henry has hidden in his shed. It had once belonged to Henry's younger brother Richard and had been with him in the bathtub the night he drowned; the duck went missing after. When Susan confronts Henry, he coldly reminds her that the toy had belonged to him before it had been Richard's. He then flips and kindly asks for the rubber duck back. After a violent tug-of-war, he takes the toy and throws it down the well.
As Susan and Mark grow closer, Henry insinuates he will kill Susan rather than let Mark continue to develop a relationship with her. When a fight breaks out between the two boys, Wallace locks Mark in the den. Henry asks a suspicious Susan to go for a walk with him, while Mark escapes and chases after them. Susan confronts Henry, asking him if he killed Richard, to which Henry replies, "What if I did?" Realizing that Mark was right about her son's true nature, Susan tells Henry that he needs help, but he refuses and flees. Susan gives chase and upon arriving at a cliff, Henry shoves her over the edge. As Susan dangles, Henry picks up a large rock he intends to drop on Susan, but Mark tackles him. Susan manages to pull herself up just in time to grab hold of the boys as they roll over the edge, one in each hand. Henry holds on with both hands but Mark's one-handed grip begins to slip. With only enough strength to save one of them, Susan reluctantly releases Henry and he falls to his death. Susan pulls Mark up and they look down upon Henry's corpse on the rocks below before it is washed away into the ocean.
When Mark returns home, he reflects upon Susan's choice to save him instead of Henry. He wonders if she would make the same choice again but knows it is something he will never ask her.
- Elijah Wood as Mark Evans
- Macaulay Culkin as Henry Evans
- Wendy Crewson as Susan Evans
- David Morse as Jack Evans
- Daniel Hugh Kelly as Wallace Evans
- Jacqueline Brookes as Alice Davenport
- Quinn Culkin as Connie Evans
- Ashley Crow as Janice Evans
- Rory Culkin as Richard Evans (photo only)
- Guy Strauss as Arizona Doctor
- Keith Brava as Doctor in Blackport
- Jerem Goodwin as Factory Worker
- Andria Hall as Woman Reporter
- Bobby Huber as Axe Man
- Mark Stefanich as Ice Man
- Susan Hopper as Woman at Rescue
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Following the completion of his novel The Child in Time, English novelist Ian McEwan was invited by 20th Century Fox to write a screenplay "about evil – possibly concerning children." McEwan recalled, "The idea was to make a low budget, high class movie, not something that Fox would naturally make a lot of money on." Despite being well received, the end result was deemed insufficiently commercial by the parties that commissioned it and it floated around Hollywood until being discovered by independent producer Mary Ann Page. Enthusiastic about the script, originally sent to her as a writing sample, Page tried to get the project off the ground for three and a half years. The film was briefly set up at Universal Studios, during which Brian Gilbert was attached as director. In 1988, Michael Klesic was originally cast in the role of Henry Evans. The film was soon after put on hold due to a lack of funding.
Following the successes of Home Alone and The Silence of the Lambs, which respectively demonstrated the appeal of both a movie about kids and of an "extreme thriller," Fox itself chose to revisit the project, which they now saw as viable. Director Michael Lehmann (Heathers) became attached, Laurence Mark was appointed as a co-producer and McEwan was called in for rewrites. Mary Steenburgen was cast as Susan and Jesse Bradford had replaced Klesic as Henry because he had grown too old to play the part. McEwan was optimistic about the project and by November 1991, sets were being built in Maine for a production that would cost approximately $12 million. This progress was suddenly interrupted when Kit Culkin, Macaulay Culkin's father and manager, at the time a notoriously influential force in Hollywood due to the child's stardom, wanted his son to star in the film. Wishing to prove Macaulay's capacity in a dark role, he made his part in The Good Son a condition for his appearing in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Fox agreed enthusiastically due to Culkin's bankability.
As the movie was originally scheduled to shoot at the same time as Home Alone 2, the start date for The Good Son was pushed back for a year, making Steenburgen no longer available and having her replaced by Wendy Crewson but also enabling Elijah Wood's involvement. Director Lehmann and producer Mark conflicted with the imposition, leading both to leave the project. The demanding Culkin would go on to insist that Macaulay's sister, Quinn, receive a role in the film and vetted replacement director Joseph Ruben (Sleeping with the Enemy). Furthermore, the budget had risen to an estimated $20 million. McEwan found himself performing further rewrites that continued to simplify the story to satisfy Ruben's comparatively mainstream tastes and was ultimately unceremoniously removed from the project altogether when another screenwriter was commissioned, Ruben's frequent collaborator David Loughery. Despite this, McEwan was awarded sole writing credit in arbitration when he contested a shared credit.
The Good Son was theatrically released on September 24, 1993. It was released on VHS in 1994. A DVD of the film was released on September 11, 2012. A Blu-ray release of The Good Son was announced on October 25, 2016 and was released on August 1, 2017.
A tie-in novel was published alongside the movie's release in 1993, written by Todd Strasser. The novel elaborates on the movie, detailing how Henry was born a sociopath, rather than being some personification of evil. In the novel, Henry's mother Susan eventually discovers that Henry is unable to understand emotions like love and sorrow, and that pleasure derived from selfish actions and the torment of others are the few things he truly feels. The book also concludes differently from the movie, ending with Mark returning to Uncle Wallace's home in Maine one year later. Mark and Susan visit Henry's grave, which includes an epitaph: "Without Darkness There Can Be No Light".
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 26% based on 27 reviews, with an average rating of 4.27/10. The site's consensus states: "The Good Son is never good enough to live up to its unsettling potential, failing to drum up much suspense and unable to make Macaulay Culkin a credible psychopath." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 45 out of 100 based on 17 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert, who deemed the film inappropriate for children, awarded it half a star, calling the project a "creepy, unpleasant experience". He and Gene Siskel later gave it "Two Thumbs Down". Many critics criticized the casting of Culkin because of his comedic image from Home Alone. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post stated that "the mere presence of the adorable boy star...seems to throw the whole film out of whack, making the picture play more like an inadvertent comedy than a thriller." Janet Maslin in The New York Times wrote that the end sequence at the cliff "is one of its few suspenseful and original moments" and "is quite literally gripping."
John Kenneth Muir in Horror Films of the 1990s wrote that the main difference between this and The Bad Seed was that the mother character ends Henry's bad conduct, while in the latter the mother is unable to stop Rhoda Penmark.
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