What I Liked: Killer children is a tough topic to tackle in any medium. Getting the right age, look, method of killing and motivation is so hard to nail down. How do you convince the audience that this very young person can do something as awful as premeditated murder? I’m not sure but the filmmakers ended up doing a decent job of presenting us one nasty ass kid.
Macaulay Culkin (Party Monster) as Henry does a really good job of emitting an unsettling aurora. There’s something about his facial expressions and the way he delivers his lines that you know he can’t be trusted. I can totally understand some folks finding his smirk heavy performance grating and/or comical but I didn’t get either of those. This shows Culkin had range at an early age and if you can sense there’s something wrong with this kid even during the scenes when he’s not acting like a creep and only doing normal twelve year old stuff then that’s kind of impressive.
The movie wastes no time with getting to the bad seed shenanigans you came for. There’s a sharp escalation in unscrupulous behavior which doesn’t let up until the end. Like Henry starts off by breaking windows at an abandoned factory but then he kills a dog and that quickly leads to endangering the lives of dozens of people by throwing a dummy off an overpass into heavy traffic (the movie tries to downplay it by telling us no one got seriously injured but that’s impossible with the huge pile up they show us, like an RV completely flips onto its side). There isn’t very much room to breathe because you have to keep up with a constant increase of horrible events.
This thing is shot beautifully (John Lindley (Father of the Bride, Shakedown, Pleasantville)). The “Maine” landscape (really Minnesota, Massachusetts and New Hampshire) is wonderfully captured with nice big wide angles and sweeping ocean shots. The small town and huge house where this takes place look so picturesque with water facing windows everywhere and a roaring fire constantly going.
Spoiler on this last point
The ending is absolutely perfect with Henry and Mark (Elijah Wood (Sin City)) dangling off a cliff and Henry’s mother is holding onto them and has to decide between her disgusting son and her loving nephew. This is one of the most fitting endings to any film ever.
What I Didn’t Like: Most of the dialogue doesn’t sound like kid dialogue. But I can’t be too hard on the screenwriter for this (Ian McEwan (Atonement (the book))) because it’s difficult enough to write regular child sounding lines. And in this case you’re piling on a battle of good vs evil. They tried their best to make the leads sound tough and menacing but it sounds too much like adults.
The score is too damn cheery for the first twenty mins. It’s distracting how much it doesn’t fit. Sure you might not wanna go for a plotting-a-malicious-scheme theme right off the bat but there needed to be something more neutral. The upbeat almost carefree music that legendary composer Elmer Bernstein wrote for the beginning was not a good choice.
|Holy shit, that's edgy!|
A kinda major problem I have with this picture is it promotes the idea that someone is born evil. You see we never find out what triggered Henry to act the way he does. They don’t go for any supernatural or revenge angle or hint at the parents being awful people that do similar despicable acts either. Henry’s simply evil and that’s all there is. And I take issue with that because I don’t think someone is born evil. Yes everyone’s predisposed to certain diseases, disorders and other genetically transferrable health issues but not the urge to kill those around you for no reason. It was a cheap way out for the movie to not approach the topic. I wish they would’ve given some sort of explanation of this kid’s motivation no matter how flimsy.
Overall Impressions: I know this is another non-horror entry but thrillers are a closely related cousin. Plus you have to hand it to the filmmakers on this one. They definitely delivered on the killer kid idea. Henry attempts to eradicate his entire family so he’s out there giving it his all.
And I just wanna say I find everything about Macaulay Culkin being in this movie fascinating. At first it may seem like an odd choice (actually his father pushed extremely hard for the role even to the point of holding Home Alone 2 hostage) but very quickly you realize he’s totally got this. It turned out to be a good casting decision even if it was by force. And the filmmakers must’ve came around to feeling the same way because just look at the poster. It’s a close up of Macaulay smirking into the camera with the tagline “evil has many faces”. They knew that’s all they needed to sell you on it. The boldness of that decision kinda blows my mind. I mean this was only one year after Home Alone 2: Lost in New York for fuck’s sake. Wow.
This is a divider. If you can get over adorable Kevin McCallister being a murderous little shit then that’s half the battle. The trouble is you still have to accept that this kid can do all the terrible stuff you witness. It’s a mixed bag, some things work others don’t. I guess I cautiously recommend this one. It’s a tough sell though.