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Film / The Good Son

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The Good Son is a 1993 horror thriller film starring Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood. The film was directed by Joseph Ruben, previously known for such films as The Stepfather (1987) and Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), and based on a script by acclaimed novelist Ian McEwan, which was rewritten by others due to Executive Meddling.

It is about Henry Evans (Culkin), a psychopathic boy terrorizing his cousin, Mark (Elijah Wood). Mark tries incredibly hard to convince his family that Henry is evil, a fact that should be noticed even if you're three miles away. Mark continually tries to stop Henry from getting worse, only to have Henry make him look worse at every turn...

Compare with The Bad Seed, to which this movie bears more than a passing resemblance (only The Bad Seed is focused on a girl).

Provides Examples Of:

  • Abusive Offspring: Henry Evans, a sociopathic kid who causes mayhem between others and his family members and outright tries to kill his own mother in the end.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • Really, all the signs are there but not one adult sees how off Henry is. When Mark points this out, he is labeled the crazy one. Even a child psychiatrist refuses to believe that Henry is evil, and the latter actually manipulates her successfully. note 
    • Mark's father leaving him with relatives so he can go on a business trip. Immediately after his son's mother died. Even worse, Mark's father doesn't seem to take Mark's report about Henry's cruel nature seriously because we never see him return from his business trip after this.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Henry treats Connie as this. However, it's because he wants to kill her. Connie is actually very nice and friendly to other people, such as Mark.
  • Ax-Crazy: Henry. He killed his younger brother because he had been playing with one of Henry’s toys. He causes traffic accidents on the highway, shoots a dog with a nail gun and tries to kill his sister all For the Evulz and finally tries to kill his Mom when she discovers the truth.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Henry shoots and kills a dog with a nail crossbow.
  • Beyond Redemption: The murder-suicide attempt by Henry on himself and Mark is what finally makes Susan realize that her son is evil.
  • Big Bad: Henry, a rare child example.
  • Big Brother Bully: Even before he tries to kill his sister, Henry is rude towards Connie. He even held her hand on the ice rink just so that killing her would be easier, and it's not like Connie was expecting that anyway. That’s not even to mention him killing his baby brother, Richard, in cold blood.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Connie is nice, especially when compared with her brother Henry. She does what it takes to try to help Mark cope with the loss of his mother, she even sides with Mark after the hide and seek game. Mark in return gets along better with Connie, reading her bed time stories, helping her with puzzles and slamming Henry against the wall for hurting her.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Mark tackles Henry when he tries to throw a big rock on his own mother, Susan, while she dangles off the edge of a cliff.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Henry manipulates adults to believe he's a "sweet" kid while showing his true evil self to Mark and Connie.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Henry is dead and Susan and Mark both survive the experience, but Mark is left wondering what would happen if Susan had to make the choice again. And there's the obvious mental scarring. The ending basically leaves you with the implication that there will be many hard years ahead, particularly for Susan.
  • Blatant Lies: While dangling from the cliff, Henry tries to get his mom to save him by saying "Mom, I love you"... right after he had tried to kill her by knocking her off the cliff. Understandably, she doesn't buy into it.
  • Book Ends: The movie opens and closes on Mark standing on a large rocky hill looking into the distance.
  • Bowdlerization: In the UK cut of this movie, the scene of Henry throwing a dummy off a bridge onto a road and causing a multiple-car pile-up was edited (in one of many examples of UK censors getting rid of scenes featuring dangerous actions that can easily be imitated in real life, mostly fight moves, destructive pranks, ingesting chemicals, and tooling around with sharp objects, electricity, or fire).
  • Cassandra Truth: No one believes Mark when he tries to warn everyone how dangerous his cousin is.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Well, more like Chekhov's Cliff.
  • Creepy Child: Guess who?
  • Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: Henry actually manipulates Mark's psychologist, who should obviously be capable of telling how a psychologically disturbed child with no empathy acts.
  • Deconstruction: Henry can be viewed as a deconstruction of Macaulay Culkin's most famous role, Kevin McCallister — a Wise Beyond Their Years kid that can outsmart and manipulate grown adults, creates homemade contraptions, and derives enjoyment from hurting people. With Kevin, it's played for comedy and his victims are criminals, but with Henry, it's played without the comedy and to its logical conclusion: Such a kid would realistically be a sociopath, it wouldn't take much for that kid to graduate to murder, and he would target anyone for any reason (perceived slights, jealousy, for fun, etc.).
  • Disney Villain Death: Henry. We only see the aftermath of his fall onto the rocks after Susan pulls Mark up and they both look down.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The reason Henry drowned his brother in the bath was that he had Henry's rubber duck. Henry then kept the duck as a kind of trophy.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Something that enhances Henry's Creepy Child status.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Even though it might have a Sarcastic Title it could also however refer to his Good Counterpart cousin and the protagonist, Mark played by Elijah Wood. It also could come from the idea of how Henry manipulates adults to make himself look better in comparison to Mark as if to say "see, I'm the good son".
  • Empty Bedroom Grieving: Susan keeps her toddler son Richard's room in the same condition and has photos of him on stands after he drowned in the bathtub, it is later revealed his older brother Henry killed him in a fit of rage after finding out his parents gave him one of his old toys.
  • Enfant Terrible: Henry Evans.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Henry doesn't, but he's perfectly willing to let Susan think so if it means she'll save him rather than Mark in the end. Thankfully, she doesn't.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: It's a very small example but when Mark asks Henry if he put poison in the family's food, he asks Mark why he'd do something like that; esentially stating that he wouldn't.
  • Evil Counterpart: As seen in Deconstruction and Spiritual Antithesis, Henry can be viewed as one to Kevin McCallister. He is also one to Mark in-universe.
  • Expy: Henry Evans is basically a genderflipped version of Rhoda Penmark from The Bad Seed (as mentioned on the movie's trope page). Both are young children who may look innocent at first glance but in fact, they've secretly done terrible things behind the backs of their parents and relatives. However while Rhoda gets away scot-free with her crimes in almost all versions of the story (except the 1956 movie adaptation), Henry gets his comeuppance when he falls to his death.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Henry may look like a nice guy in the outside, but he's a sociopath in the inside.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Henry initially projects an easygoing, friendly image, but he is a manipulative, crazy monster.
  • For the Evulz: This is pretty much the core of Henry's philosophy: For people to invokedrid themselves of morals so that they can kill and terrorize for simple thrills and fun. And he reflects this philosophy in his own actions throughout the movie.
  • Gilligan Cut: A pretty depressing example occurs at the beginning, when Mark is sitting by the bed of his terminally ill mother, repeating desperately that she won't die because he won't let her. Then it cuts to her funeral.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Mark wears a blue jacket and Henry wears a red jacket.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: The first sign of Henry's true nature is that he smokes and gets Mark to smoke as well.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Henry's Fatal Flaw. He killed his younger brother, Richard, because he was given more attention than him and wanted Mark and Connie out of the way so he could be the favorite, all out of pure jealousy.
  • Groin Attack: During their scuffle at the end, Henry knees Mark in the groin.
  • Hollywood Density: Henry tries to kill his sister by hurling her onto thin ice, where she immediately falls through. However, several adults trying to save her easily walk on the ice and need massive axes to chip it open mere seconds later.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: None of the adults (including a psychologist, no less) notice the very obvious signs of Henry's sociopathy, believing he is completely innocent and could do no wrong. Only Susan manages to figure this out.
  • Idiot Ball: It's the only reason the adults don't see the obvious malicious nature of Henry.
  • Incriminating Indifference: Henry never shows any emotion or regret about any of the crimes he commits, including those that happen in plain sight.
  • Infant Sibling Jealousy: Henry felt this toward his baby brother Richard in the past, with deadly consequences.
  • It's All About Me: Henry. He shows no consideration for anyone and is willing to murder to get what he wants, like murdering his baby brother over a toy and trying to murder Mark and Connie because he was afraid they would be noticed more.
  • Jerkass: The nicest thing that can be said about Henry.
  • Karma Houdini: Wallace doesn't face any repercussions for his treatment of his nephew, namely locking him up after Henry pulls a Wounded Gazelle Gambit.
  • Karmic Death: In the climax, Henry tries to kill his mother by shoving her off a cliff. He's the one who ends up falling from it — by her hand.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Henry is a very disturbing and frightening example.
  • Kill the Cutie: Subverted. Henry attempts to kill Connie by throwing her onto thin ice. She's saved from drowning, but she ends up in the hospital.
  • Lack of Empathy: Henry for the umpteenth time. In particular when he asks Mark about how his mother looked when she died and described how his baby brother looked and felt as a corpse.
  • Literal Cliffhanger: Henry shoves his mother off a cliff and tries to finish her off with a rock to break her attempts to climb back up. Susan manages to pull herself back up just as Mark attacks Henry and both boys go over the side, forcing her to try and save them by catching them.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Henry is a master at this, as he successfully fools his parents, even Mark's therapist and makes Mark look like a crazy person and himself look like a saint.
  • Nice Guy: Mark and Connie Evans. Both of them are great cousins toward each other and former did as much as he could to protect the latter from Henry.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Make one guess.
  • No Endor Holocaust: After causing a massive car crash, dialogue between Mark and Henry implies that Henry only could have killed somebody, but actually didn't.
  • Novelization: By author Todd Strasser, who also novelized the first three Home Alone movies.
  • Offing the Offspring: Susan ultimately has to choose which child will live when she can only rescue one...and she lets Henry die.
  • Only Sane Man: Mark, and even Connie are pretty much the only people who are fully aware of Henry's sociopathic behavior and Mark constantly tries to warn everyone about it.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Susan is definitely this as she goes through the incidents that happened to her offspring, her youngest son being drowned in a bathtub and her daughter almost drowning in cold water at the ice rink and being sent to the hospital, and ultimately watching her son fall off a cliff to his death after she chooses to save Mark over him.
  • Reminiscing About Your Victims: One of the first signs of Henry's sociopathy is when he tells Mark what Richard's corpse looked like.
  • Parental Abandonment: Mark's mother dies at the start of the film, and his father is never seen again after leaving Mark with his aunt and uncle.
  • Parental Substitute: Susan becomes this for Mark over the course of the movie.
  • Precision F-Strike: "Hey, Mark. Don't fuck with me."
  • Sadist: Henry shows this trait multiple times throughout the movie. He felt nothing but cold joy and satisfaction after murdering a dog with his crossbow, and had a Psychotic Smirk on his face whilst watching the car accident he caused get bigger.
  • Sadistic Choice: The climax of the film depicts Susan having to choose whether to save Mark or Henry from falling off a cliff. Thankfully, she picks the right one.
  • Sarcastic Title: If the son in question is Henry.
  • Scary Flashlight Face: Henry does this when he and Mark are looking for Connie during hide and seek.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Henry tries this on Susan in the end. It backfires on an epic scale.
  • Shout-Out: When they meet for the first time, Henry gives Mark a white mask made of paper and glue.
  • Sibling Murder: Henry drowned his baby brother over a rubber duck.
  • Snow Means Death: It's winter when Mark goes to stay with Henry and his family. A great deal of attention is paid to the ice pond and cold surroundings.
  • The Sociopath: Henry is a textbook example of one; ruthless, dishonest, callous, manipulative, sadistic, unsympathetic and selfish.
  • Spear Counterpart: Henry is a male version of Rhoda Penmark.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Home Alone. Both films star Macaulay Culkin as an intelligent kid with great ingenuity that delights in causing pain. While Home Alone is a slapstick comedy that portrays said kid as a hero that (violently) defends his home from burglars, The Good Son is a thriller where said kid is the villain - an amoral sociopath that terrorizes people for fun and tries to murder his own family members.
  • Suicidal "Gotcha!": After Susan finally figures out that Henry was behind Richard's death, he runs away and tricks her into believing he's jumped off a cliff. When she's looking for him, he runs out from behind some bushes and shoves her over the edge, setting up the film's climax.
  • There Are No Therapists: There is in fact a therapist in the movie; she's here to help Mark get over his grief of losing his mother. However, despite her professional training, she thinks Mark's behavior and ramblings about his cousin being is evil is just a way to get attention. She also fails to recognize Henry as a manipulative monster who doesn't have any shred of empathy.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Henry, who's played by Macaulay Culkin of all people.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Again, the adults who can't seem to wrap their heads around just how genuinely screwed up Henry is. This includes a child psychologist, by the way. note 
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Henry has this in spades.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Henry was about to murder his mother with gleeful confidence that no one will stop him from committing any evil, but when Mark jumps in and tackles him, thus ruining his murder attempt, you can tell through his fight with Mark that he is absolutely furious and enraged.
    Henry: I'm gonna kill you! I'M GONNA KILL YOU!!
  • Villains Want Mercy: Exploited and justified. As he and Mark are held by Susan at the edge of a precipice, Henry realizes she can only save one kid and tries to sway his mother to save him repeatedly saying "Mom, Mom, I love you" in order to overwhelm her with guilt. Predictably, it doesn't take — to save Mark, Susan lets the evil little brat tumble and smash on the rocks below, with him screaming all the way as a final middle finger to her; almost as if to say "I may not have to live with you killing one of your own kids, but you will, and there's nothing you can do about it."
    Henry: ...Mom?
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Henry pulls this when Uncle Wallace comes in to discover Mark looking like he's going to kill Henry after Henry indirectly implies to Mark that he will kill Susan next.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Henry manages to convince all the adults that Mark is unstable and violent. He has him boxed in to such a degree that no matter what Mark does, the adults see Mark as the disturbed one and Henry as a normal child.