If, like me, you were a member of Macaulay Culkin's target audience in the early '90s, you were probably blown away the first time you heard about The Good Son. Arriving just two years after Culkin became a pop-cultural phenomenon thanks to Home Alone, The Good Son offered everyone the opportunity to see America's most precocious star flex his acting muscles in a hard-R horror film.
The film had more going for it, to be sure - it was directed by Joseph Ruben, who'd struck box office gold in 1991 with Sleeping With The Enemy; it featured supporting work from a solid cast (including David Morse and a talented young upstart by the name of Elijah Wood); it was written by the award-winning Ian McEwan - but make no mistake: the real draw for audiences in 1993 was seeing Kevin McAllister go to the dark side. Hell, the original one-sheet for the film is just a big-ass picture of Culkin's face with the words "Evil Has Many Faces" emblazoned across the top.
To that end, the casting of Culkin worked like gangbusters: morbid curiosity drove the $17m film to a $60m box office gross. It did not, however, sway critics, the vast majority of which were really not feeling what McEwan, Ruben and company had cooked up. Here, check out this clip of Siskel & Ebert talking about the film around the time of its release (start at the :45 mark if you're into the whole brevity thing):
"Irresponsible," they said. "Parents should've thought twice," they said. "Reprehensible," they said. Well, I guess that's one way to look at it. Another way to look at it might've been: The Good Son was clearly marketed as a dark, disturbing, in-no-way-appropriate-for-children horror film. If the argument is, "Kids are going to want to see this because the dude from Home Alone is headlining it," my first thought would be: "Who in their right mind would take an impressionable kid to that film?"
Oh, well. It's really neither here nor there. The Good Son has bigger problems than its (debatable) irresponsibility. Namely, it's just not very good. Culkin never really sells the role as written, and the stabs (no pun intended) the film takes at being twisted are more depressing than they are entertainingly creepy (see also: Macaulay Culkin killing a dog (!!!) with some sort of homemade bolt gun; Macaulay Culkin maybe-sorta-probably being responsible for the drowning of a baby; Macaulay Culkin trying to kill his own mother; Macaulay Culkin plummeting off a cliff). For most people, I imagine the whole thing was just sort of a bummer.
That said, I've always had a bit of a soft spot for this one, and when I last revisited it (a year or so ago), I was genuinely impressed by how dark it was willing to go. I can see why that'd turn off most people but I appreciated just how committed everyone was to making something with a real edge to it. The ending is bonkers, as well, with Culkin's mother forced to choose between saving her own son or her nephew (Wood), both of whom she has dangling over the edge of a cliff (!!!).
The Good Son definitely isn't one of the all-time great Killer Kidz movies. But in terms of being a weird, oddly vicious little time capsule of the early '90s, it's a lot of fun to go back to. Consider giving it another shot, and bring the kids.