Warning: This post contains spoilers.
By the time The Good Son hit theaters on this date, Sept. 24, 1993, Macaulay Culkin’s star was already starting to fade a little. It wasn’t because he wan’t bankable. It was because his father was making things just to difficult in Hollywood. In the five years, he had gone from sharing the screen with Hollywood legends like Burt Lancaster in Rocket Gilbrator and Jeff Bridges and Farrah Fawcett in See You in the Morning to holding his own comically against John Candy in Uncle Buck to the star of his own movie at the age of 10.
It was the typical Hollywood child star path to destruction – too much, too soon, too young. Yet Mac Culkin was growing up. In a huge blowup between Kit Culkin and famous producer Arnon Milchan over the live-action The Nutcracker was going to make young Macaulay blacklisted. Kit wanted certain changes to the movie or else his son wouldn’t do publicity. Milchan stood his ground and told Kit Culkin were to go. And in 1994, at just 14, Mac Culkin walked away from Hollywood for almost a decade. It’s not like he didn’t have to worry. Kit had negotiated huge million dollar deals of which Mac said he didn’t know anything about until later when Kit broke up with his partner and the kids’ mother, Patricia Brentup.
It’s not like Hollywood needed Mac anyway. Child actors come and go, mainly because they can’t stay young forever. And a young blue-eyed Elijah Wood was already making noise in Hollywood thanks to a role in Barry Levinson’s semi-autobiographical Avalon. (Wood would also be a presenter at the 1994 Academy Awards in what some saw as a middle finger to Kit Culkin.) So, it only seemed natural a director would stick two of the hottest tween actors in a movie like The Good Son. But it didn’t come without Kit’s wrangling as he felt it was a good project for Mac, but production was set to begin at the same time as Home Alone II: Lost in New York.
But for a studio like 20th Century Fox, if you can get Mac Culkin over an unknown at the time Jesse Bradford, you wait and get Mac Culkin and two back-to-back hits. Publicity alone as this would be Mac’s first antagonistic villain role would pack the theaters, which is needed because The Good Son isn’t the greatest when it comes to thrillers. It works but it works on a level that is more of a Lifetime movie thriller rather than a huge edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.
The story begins with a young Mark Evans (Wood), only 12, suffering the pain and grief of losing his mother to cancer. His father, Jack (David Morse) is supportive but the death has come at the worst time as he’s going to have to travl to Japan to close a big business deal that will have them set for life or at least make it that Jack doesn’t have to travel as much anymore. So, his brother, Wallace (Daniel Hugh Kelly) offers to have Mark visit them in Maine while Jack is on his trip which will take place over Winter Break. Apparently, the Evans are atheists and don’t celebrate Christmas as little to no mention is made of the holiday season. One might assume Mark got three weeks off for Christmas and Wallace’s family already took the decorations down before they got there. However, I think it was done so audiences would make any connections to the Home Alone movies as well as The Nutcracker and have parents thinking it was another Mac Culkin Christmas movie.
When he arrives in Maine, he is welcomed by his aunt Susan (Wendy Crewson) who becomes the motherly figure he needs. Susan is also grieving herself as her infant son, Richard (Rory Culkin shown in photos) drowned while she went away for a short time while giving him a bath. Wallace and Susan’s oldest son, Henry (Mac Culkin) proves to be a little rapscallion like most boys his age. At first, Mark and Henry enjoy a little Hell-raising by throwing rocks at windows in a dilapidated warehouse and smoking cigarettes Henry has stashed in a good spot.
But Mark begins to notice that Henry might be more devious and a little deranged. He’s made a projectile device that fires metal bolts at vicious dog that had chased them early thus killing the animal. Initially, Henry says he didn’t mean to hit the dog but Mark has doubts. Later Henry asks Mark to take “Mr. Highway,” a fake dummy he has created to an overpass where he pushes it down on the road below creating multi-vehicle traffic collisions. Henry looks pleased to witness the destruction while Mark is stunned.
Unable to deal with this, when he approaches Susan, she doesn’t want to hear it and slaps Mark saying that Henry is a good boy and son. Wallace begins to believe the grief Mark is under is creating anger issues as Henry begins to provoke Mark to make it look like Mark is the aggressor. Even Mark can’t talk to a therapist, Alice Davenport (Jacqueline Brookes), without Henry showing up to twist things to make him out to the bad seed. Henry is becoming jealous of the attention Mark is getting from Susan and it’s obvious that he has some issues.
When Henry takes his younger sister, Connie (Quinn Culkin) to ice skating on the lake, he pushes her into the thin ice area where she falls through. Then he pretends to go to her aid but keeps his hands from her grasp so no one can see. But help arrives in time to save Connie. This causes Susan to rethink what Mark said and she questions whether Richard’s death was an accident or not. She finds a rubber duck that was Richard’s that went missing that Henry took.
In the end, Henry and Susan go to a cliff where Susan often goes to think and pushes her off, but she doesn’t fall to the icy waters and is able to climb back up. She discovers Henry and Mark are fighting on the edge of the cliff and they both fall off with Susan very quickly grabbing each boys’ hand but unable to pull them up. In the end, when Henry pretends to plead and show emotion, Susan releases her grip and grabs Mark pulling him up to safety. Henry falls to his death. This is hinted into an earlier scene where Mark and Henry climb up to his tree house but Mark loses his footing and almost falls but Henry saves him.
Some people say the ending is shocking how Susan knows that saving Mark is the right choice. If she saved Henry, he would still try to harm them. For a parent to have lost one child and almost another, what would she do? I think it would’ve been equally shocking had she let Mark fall and just lied. Parents sometimes will do the most outrageous things to protect their children even if it includes immoral, unethical and criminal acts. I’ve covered courts and crimes. You wouldn’t believe how many “35-year-old babies” were railroaded by the system or how a “tramp slut” is lying about sexual assaults.
Unfortunately, The Good Son didn’t get good reviews when it was in theaters with many critics blasting the notion of casting Mac in such an evil role. Apparently, they forogt just how sadistic he was in the Home Alone movies at one point electrocuting a character. A popular fan theory that has been spreading for years implies that Kevin McCallister, the character he played in those movies, became John Kramer the Jigsaw Killer in the Saw movies. While The Good Son played in many theaters around the world, it was banned from the United Kingdom as the murder of Liverpool resident James Bulger, who was just a month shy of his third birthday, was still in the news. He had been killed by two young children, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, both 10, in the winter of 1993. Thompson and Venables were later convicted.
Despite the way their characters acted on screen, Mac Culkin and Wood became good friends and remained friends into adulthood. When asked if they still talk and get along, Mac sent out the tweet “Of course we’re friends,” he said implying they “will always be brothers…until he inevitable drops me off a cliff.” Culkin would go on to play club promoter and murderer Michael Alig in Party Monster in 2003 while Wood hit paydirt and A-list status as Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Culkin would later have run in with the law on drug charges after his short marraige to actress Rachel Miner. It was reported he wanted to start a family with her while she wanted to focus more on her career. Mac Culkin has since got clean and formed a band The Pizza Underground and appearing on American Horror Story TV show as well work in independent movies.
While the movie does have the Lifetime vibes, it does have a few elements that make it more mature, such as Henry dropping the F-bomb. Joseph Ruben directed the movie on a script by Ian McEwan. Ruben had a previous hit with Sleeping with the Enemy which followed a similar Lifetime thriller plot. (An interesting side note, both Julia Roberts, the star of that movie and Culkin were approached to appear in the comedy Holy Matrimony, which later starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Patrcia Arquette.)
The movie does look at how we’re sometimes unable to see young children in need of mental help. Neither Jack nor Wallace seem to show much compassion as it was common for men of that era not to show too many emotions. I feel this is part of their upbringing and they felt it should rely on the mothers to do this. At the same time, Susan is struggling with guilt on top of grief but Wallace is unable to address it.
Susan also refuses to admit Henry might have problems, but most women her age during this period, saw the behaviors of their children as a reflection of their parenting. Many Gen Xers and Millennials who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s have discussed having mothers who were more defensive by saying, “I did the best I could do” or “Do you think this is what I wanted?” Wallace and Susan live in a huge house in Maine overlooking the ocean. I know it doesn’t come cheap. An affluent upbringing doesn’t mean a child will turn out good.
A novelization by Todd Strausser paints Henry as more of a sociopath. He was unable to understand emotions like love and sorrow, getting pleasure from selfish acts. It was following this movie that many daytime TV talk shows would look into the issues of “Out of Control Children” further. Maury Povich, Dr. Phil McGraw and others would make bank on this exploitation. And sometimes these shows would point the finger at the parents or legal guardians. I beg to differ some children are just born like Henry with a lack of emotions and they have no outlet except to do bad thing. It doesn’t reflect poorly on the parents but they need to keep their eyes open and stop defending themselves.
What do you think? Please comment.