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Film / The Bad Seed (2018)

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David: What would you give me for a basket of hugs?
Emma: A basket of kisses!

Previously adapted as a both a stage play and two films, The Bad Seed is a 2018 Made-for-TV Movie directed by Rob Lowe for Lifetime and inspired by the original novel by William March.

Emma Grossman is everything a parent could want in a child - smart, charming, polite, respectful - and is doted upon by her widowed father, David. However, when a tragedy takes place at Emma's school involving the death of a fellow classmate, her unusual behavior forces him to question everything he thought he knew about his beloved daughter.

The film premiered on the Lifetime network on September 9, 2018 to 1.87 million views. It starred Mckenna Grace as Emma Grossman and Rob Lowe as her father, David. Other actors featured include Sarah Dugdale as Chloe the nanny, Marci T. House as Emma's teacher Mrs. Ellis, and Cara Buono as Emma's aunt Angela. Patty McCormack, who played Rhoda Penmark in the original film, also made a special guest appearance as the psychiatrist.

This version of the story is one of the most derivative, taking place in 2018 and having both the names and genders of the characters changed. For the most part, however, the plot remains the same as its previous incarnations.

A sequel, The Bad Seed Returns, debuted on Lifetime in 2022. Grace, who also co-produced and co-wrote the film, returns as Emma, and some other cast members reprise their roles (though Michelle Morgan takes over as Aunt Angela).

It contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Name Change: Rhoda Penmark is now Emma Grossman. This is for the same reason she was renamed Rachel Penmark in the 1985 remake: very few female children are named Rhoda anymore. Her classmate victim is Milo Curtis (Claude Daigle in the original story).
  • Adapted Out: There's no direct equivalent to Monica Breedlove, the family friend who acts as Rhoda's main enabler in the original. She's something of a Decomposite Character here, with Angela, Dr. March and Mrs. Ellis all having a few elements of her.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Emma, Emma, Emma, to horrendous extremes.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Aside from the murders she commits, Emma also blackmails Chloe into letting her stay up late and giving her extra ice cream. And cookies.
  • Asshole Victim: Zigzagged. Chloe may have been a manipulative liar and thief, but she probably didn't deserve to burn alive in a fire set by Emma.
  • Ax-Crazy: Emma is straight up psychotic and is willing to kill anyone for the pettiest reasons.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: At the end of the film, David is shot by the caretaker of the lake house because the latter believed he was trying to kill Emma. This leads to her going to live with her aunt and her getting away with her multiple crimes.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Played with. In the beginning of the film, Emma coldly watches a cat drown in the fountain outside her house. Meanwhile, later on at school, she successfully catches a wasp that had gotten into the classroom and releases it outside. Of course, in the wasp's case, she was in the middle of class and everyone was paying attention to her.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Played with in regards to Emma and Chloe, but never really touched upon. While Chloe is a liar and a thief who insults Emma directly to her face and Emma is a cold-blooded killer willing to murder people to get what she wants, Chloe knows about Emma's "activities" and is perfectly fine with keeping it a secret between them, essentially making her an accomplice.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted. While Mrs. Ellis perishes in a car crash caused by Emma, she's far from the first fatality.
  • Brainy Brunette: Emma is a brunette in this version and shown to be extremely intelligent, with an entire shelf full of trophies and prizes she won at school.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Yes Chloe, you should definitely taunt Emma, a murderous child, about hooking up with her father and her involvement in Milo's death. That's not going to backfire on you at all. It does, literally, as she ends up locked in a shed and burned alive while Emma watches.
  • Call-Back: Several references to the first movie are sprinkled in throughout the film.
    • Even though it's reversed in the remake, the page quote was also an exchange between Rhoda and her father in the 1956 version.
    • The child psychologist who treats Emma is also played by the original bad seed herself - Patty McCormack. At one point, she even tells the former how she did the exact same things when she was her age. There's an additional inside joke in her character's name, Dr. March (in honor of William March, the author of the original novel).
    • Like Leroy in the original, whom she's a Gender Flip of, Chloe taunts Emma by telling her that little girls who murder are executed in a pink electric chair.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The wasp nest (Emma uses it to kill Mrs. Ellis), the flammable agents in David's workshop and his discouraging Chloe from smoking cigarettes in there (Emma uses them to burn her to death and makes it look she was smoking), Emma liking hot chocolate (David tries to kill her at the climax by spiking a mug of it with sleeping pills).
  • Children Are Innocent: Played straight with Milo and Emma's classmates, but not so much with Emma herself.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Emma's behavior borders on this because she doesn't want her single father to date (and possibly marry) anyone new.
  • Creepy Child: Emma. Even before her mask drops, she's still kind of strange.
  • Cute and Psycho: Everyone sees Emma as a cute (if slightly distant) girl on the outside, but she's really a manipulative, murderous psychopath on the inside.
  • Daddy's Girl: Having been raised solely by her widowed father, it's no surprise that Emma is one of these. Of course, she takes it to extremes.
  • Death of a Child: Played straight with Milo. Poor kid.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Despite her young age, Emma is never shown playing like a normal child would. This is most likely due to the fact that she's not a normal child.
  • Driven to Suicide: David by the end of the film. When Emma fails to drink the hot chocolate he spiked for her, his next plan is to kill them both so Emma won't have to be institutionalized.
  • Death Glare: Emma gives several of these throughout the movie, most notably to Chloe when the latter finds Milo's citizenship medal.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Emma has dark brown hair, pale skin, and is perfectly willing to fake a sweet smile to get what she wants.
  • Enfante Terrible: Emma. While charming, sweet, and polite on the outside, by the end of the film, she's responsible for the deaths of at least four people.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Despite everything she did, Emma still holds a lot of love for her father. Averted after he finds out her true nature. However, she still sheds tears when trying to shoot him, and it's implied she misses because her hands were shaking.
  • Even Evil Can Be Loved: After finding out her true nature, David still tries to protect Emma from the consequences of her actions - even when he's the next target.
  • Fatal Flaw: After finding out her true nature, David thinks he can save Emma from being institutionalized. It doesn't end well.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Emma is sweet and charming to the adults around her and when she wants something. She drops this act by the end of the film.
  • Gender Flip: Christine Penmark, the beleaguered mother in the original work, becomes David Grossman, the father of the Villain Protagonist. Leroy, the middle-aged male caretaker who becomes the girl's main adversary, is now a young female nanny named Chloe.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Emma spends most of the film wearing her hair down or partially pulled back, but dons these when she goes to see the psychiatrist. Doubles as a Shout-Out to the original bad seed, Rhoda Penmark, who's signature look also included these.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Chloe. She may be a liar who steals prescription pills, insults Emma to her face, and tries to seduce David, but her point that Emma can't hide her crimes forever holds some relevance.
  • Karma Houdini: Emma gets away with everything she's done.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The plot of the entire film revolves around one particularly terrible child.
  • Lack of Empathy: Just like her previous incarnations, Emma is shown to have this. At one point, she even questions why Milo should be buried with the medal since he's not around to care anyways.
  • Light Is Not Good: Emma's bedroom has white furniture and pastel blue walls, which is in direct contrast to her own dark and disturbing personality.
  • Likes Older Men: Chloe shamelessly flirts with David, and even uses the term "DILF" to describe him when talking to Emma.
  • Marry the Nanny: Chloe gleefully pesters Emma by suggesting that she might marry David and become her stepmother.
  • Match Cut: From the burning workshop with Chloe trapped inside to a steak flambé being cooked for David in the restaurant.
  • Missing Mom: In this version, it is mentioned that Emma's mother died shortly after she was born, leaving her to be raised by her single father.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Chloe, especially in the scene where she sunbathes in a bare midriff black Spandex outfit.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Most of Emma's problems could have been solved by simply dealing with emotions or speaking with the people in question. Naturally, she chose none of these.
  • Offing the Offspring: David attempts to do this to Emma in a Mercy Kill in order to avoid her having to face her crimes. It doesn't work.
  • Patricide: Emma becomes one of these by the end of the film when she's directly responsible for her father's death, also making her a Self-Made Orphan.
  • Psychological Horror: Since all of the murders are actually depicted onscreen (at least in part), this fits the genre more completely than the 1956 film.
  • Pyromaniac: After Chloe taunts her about seducing her father and becoming her stepmother, Emma locks her in the shed and sets it on fire, leaving her to burn to death.
  • Schrödinger's Cast: Rhoda's father was mostly absent in the original book and films (save for a few notable scenes), while her mother was the one who realized Rhoda's true nature. In this version, it's the father who takes on this role with Emma while the mother is said to have died years ago.
    • This version also gives the main character an aunt that is not present in the other adaptations. Emma later goes to live with this aunt at the end of the film.
  • Secondary Adaptation: Or tertiary in this case, considering it was based off the 1956 film, which was based off the stage play, which in turn was based off the original novel.
  • Serial Killer: By the end of the movie, Emma is responsible for the deaths of at least five people, including Milo, Chloe, Mrs. Ellis, her former nanny, and her own father.
  • Shout-Out: Emma enjoys watching Shirley Temple movies (perhaps as a way to get pointers on how to appear like a perfect little girl).
  • The Sociopath: Emma can certainly qualify as this. She uses and manipulates people to get what she wants, and then when they threaten her or are no longer useful, she gets rid of them.
  • Spoiled Brat: Emma could definitely qualify as one of these. As if killing a fellow classmate because he won a medal and she didn't isn't bad enough, there's also her notable displeasure at her father's dating life.
  • Stepford Smiler: Both Emma and Chloe come across as Type 3, with Chloe as a snowboarder whose career was derailed by an injury, including hints that she's in desperate financial straits and has developed some issues with drugs, and Emma with her perfect demeanor masking some serious psychopathy. They're both masters at telling people what they want to hear.
  • Tears of Fear: Emma sheds these when her father confronts her about the people she has killed. The tears don't come from actual regret, but instead from the possibility of being executed in an electric chair.
  • Tears of Remorse: Emma sheds these as she tries to shoot her father as he sleeps. This surprisingly appears to be genuine as she had no one to act to in that moment.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Chloe probably shouldn't have provoked a known murderer if she wanted to stay alive. The same can be said for David when, rather than go to the police about what Emma did, he takes her to the lake house to find an alternate solution. Either way, it's a classic example of why cornering a suspected killer without any backup or leverage to hold them at bay is a very bad idea.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: The beginning of the film shows Emma not reacting to a dead cat in the fountain outside her house, even as it drowns. It only gets worse from there.
  • Villain Has a Point: Emma pointed out Chloe's bad behavior to her father, only to be ignored and brushed aside so he could go on a date. She also mentions during her confession scene how her former nanny grabbed her arm, which is not something any good nanny should ever do to a child in their care.
  • Villain of Another Story: You can easily picture a separate Lifetime movie where Chloe, the conceited nanny who bullies the child she's taking care of and tries to seduce the single dad who hired her is the villain. She acts nice to David's face, but lies to him, steals from him, and insults Emma behind his back. She lampshades this to Emma in one scene:
    Chloe: Where I come from, a spoiled little princess like you ain't shit.
  • Villain Protagonist: Emma is the villain and this is her story.
  • Wicked Cultured: Emma likes Shirley Temple movies and is frequently seen reading.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Played with when Chloe teased that she would become this to Emma, but ultimately averted when Emma locks Chloe in a burning shed and leaves her to die.