The Good Son (1993)

The Good Son, 1993’s masterpiece starring one pre-Flipper, pre-Deep Impact, pre-LOTR Elijah Wood and one post-Uncle Buck, post-Home Alone, post-My Girl, post-Home Alone 2 (Lost in New York!) Sir Macaulay Culkin. One of these children had a promising body of work under their belt by the time 1993 came a-calling and the other was Elijah Wood. Very apropo considering (spoiler) one of these boys dies at the end of the movie and his career basically ends right after this movie is released. Unless we’re counting Richie Rich- which I do no not.

This movie opens up to credits in the Marker Felt font. Ugh, way to set the time period context. This is a font that is Comic Sans-adjacent and like CS is most often used in 4th grade powerpoint presentations about the solar system. No one’s name or movie title looks great in Marker Felt.

Cut to sweeping shots of the desert, a boy is standing by himself looking over the vast rock formations, staring into nothing. We immediately cut to Mark (Elijah Wood) in some shorty shorts playing soccer and sporting an unfortunate 90’s bowl cut. He’s a little dweeb but people seem to like him, and he seems pretty happy. Until his dad shows up and they make significant eye contact and dad pulls him from the soccer game to go to the hospital.

They are going to visit Mark’s mom, who you get the sense has been there for a minute. She wakes up for a second but falls back asleep or whatever and Mark whispers forebodingly in her ear “Mom...you’re not going to die.. Because I won’t let you.” She dies immediately. Way to go, Mark.

Her funeral is back at the desert from the first shot- where the fuck do these dummies live? Marky Mark wanders off from the funeral recession, and gazes longingly at the vast, sweeping desert landscape. Meanwhile, Mark’s sad dad is talking to Mark’s uncle. Apparently Mark is getting shipped off for a few weeks to stay with relatives while Sad Dad takes care of work things? Sad Dad is slightly reluctant about this arrangement but ultimately he doesn’t care enough about Mark to accommodate bringing him along to whatever business bullshit he’s getting into now that his wife is dead. It’s decided, Mark is getting shipped to his aunt and uncle’s house- cue another sweeping desert montage.

Mark seems like your typical 90’s kid. If Buzzfeed put out a “90’s Kids Will Remember This” listicle, then he’d be all “yeah, I remember all this!” He’s having a problem dealing with death, and is maybe a little unclear about the logistics of it since he’s pretty sure mommy is coming back. A few pouty montages later, and Mark arrives at some snowy Colorado(?) locale. Macaulay Culkin creepily eyes their car as they drive up. Mark’s adorable girly cousin and sweet Auntie greet Mark appropriately, but Macaulay (his character’s name is Henry, but “Mark” and “Henry” are two of the whitest little boy names so to avoid confusion, he is just Macaulay), like a psychopath, greets him in a creepy paper mache mask. It’s cool though! He made two of them! One for Mark and one for young Jeffrey Dahmer! They gonna be brothers and this movie should be rated G because nothing bad will ever happen to anyone!

Then they all sit down to eat this elaborate lobster dinner and we start to see the first signs of “something ain't right with that boy”. Macaulay kicks Mark in the shin so hard under the table, completely unsolicited- Mark flinches but barely pauses before retaliating with an equal blow. Macaulay winces but then turns and smiles at Mark. Perhaps a pre-pubescent Fight Club is in the works?? They are both happy little shit stains and everyone is all “aw, they are going to be fine.”

Then, Mark’s dad splits. He says it’s the last time he’ll leave since he’s going to close a big business deal and be set for life, but let’s face it. This guy hates his kid and he probably poisoned his mom. Right? He just has that kind of look. It’s the subtext. Mark watches his dad drive away and then slinks back inside. The biggest mystery throughout these opening scenes, is where the fuck ARE they? First, they were in the desert, probably Arizona or New Mexico. Then they drive “three states” over, and all of a sudden they are in some place with snow on the ground. Okay, still fine. But then, when Mark wakes up they are on a huge body of water, presumably an ocean because there are massive cliffs everywhere and the water doesn’t move like a lake, except for maybe the Great Lakes, which are way too far away from Arizona to be a possibility. Where. The. Fuck. Are. We??

Mark wakes up and Macaulay is playing outside with fake weapons and running around by himself like a lunatic. Mark, heading downstairs, stumbles upon a weird nursery. It’s odd because this house don’t have no babies… he shrugs and heads downstairs. What does he care? He’s a child who doesn’t fully understand the concept of death. He and Macaulay begin their boyish romp around. They start with football, and then Henry leads Mark to his secret psychopath treehouse. It’s way too far up that tree, I wonder how it even got built? They both are huffing and puffing to get up there, it doesn’t look like fun at all. Then a branch breaks, and Mark is dangling from the side, with only Macaulay’s grip keeping him for certain death. Macaulay grins a little and says ominously “If I let you go, do you think you could fly?” He lets him dangle there for a second and then pulls him up. What little boy has the strength to do that? He’s doping for sure.

Then, they run to an abandoned warehouse and start breaking windows with rocks in slow motion. It’s fucking weird how happy and destructive they are- and also it’s not an abandoned warehouse, someone starts yelling at them after they’ve destroyed a good portion of those windows. They giggle and run away. Then Macaulay brings them to a well and he starts smoking. He hands a cig to Mark and starts asking him about his dead mom’s body. Young Son of Sam starts saying it’s important to look at dead things- it’s scientific. He starts talking about how he took a real good look at his kid brother Richie when he drowned in the bathtub- he explains how his dead brother looked in such detail, Mark just looks at him like, haha want to go back to the house and eat some lunchables?

Then cut to a weird sequence where they are walking along a dock and a dog starts chasing them, being super ominous and crazy. They eventually are able to shut a gate on said viscous pup, and then Macaulay starts barking back from behind the safety of the closed door. Mark looks at him like what? Let’s get some lunchables or something and stop acting so fucking strange? And then Macaulay shrugs and walks away saying “I love that dog.” Way to keep it super weird, Macaulay. These kids, apparently constantly roaming the coast unsupervised, creep up and find Macaulay’s mom in a long black...cloak? Long jacket? She is standing at the end of a cliff, just chilling. Macaulay casually mentions that she does up there to think about dead baby Richard- “isn’t that weird?” he says. Um, sure Macaulay.

They run back to Macaulay’s secret shed (ok, this kid has a tree house and a shed? Where the fuck are his parents? You’d think the Satanic Panic from the 80’s would have spooked them into keeping a closer eye, but maybe not considering Macaulay is quite possibly a secret satanist himself). In Macaulay’s secret shed are 1000 red flags. There are dolls hanging from nooses, scary found object assemblages, and a homemade crossbow of sorts, but instead of arrows you load in screws and small metal debri to shoot out. Macaulay immediately wants to shoot a cat, Mark says “don’t hit it, just scare it a little!” Yeah you’re both kind of psychopaths, but I guess in the way that all boys that don’t fully understand death are psychopaths. Macaulay fires away, and no, it doesn’t hit the cat but you can tell he was aiming for it (because he mentions the sight on his murder toy isn’t quite right yet).

Mark goes to a therapist. It’s a 15 second scene where he says he let his mom die, again demonstrating he doesn’t fully understand death. He wakes up in the middle of the night thinking that he hears his mom, but it’s just Auntie in a creepy long white nightgown walking slow and deliberately like a ghost. Mark thinks it’s his mom, still not understanding death. Even after she turns around and it is obviously not his mom, he continues to talk to her like she is, but he starts crying. Auntie is comforting him, and Macaulay sees this moment of affection and a dark shadow is cast over his face. Then, the scene switches to Mark on the floor playing with Macaulay's sister; hmmmm Mark IS kind of single white femaling Macaulay’s life. Is it possible that HE is the actual villain of the movie? Oh, but then Macaulay waltzes in and pushes his sister callously and is a little shit head, so no- Macaulay is the only bad boy in this house located on an ambiguous ocean.

The two boys run off to do little sociopath stuff with Macaulay’s murder toy. Macaulay shoots the dog that terrorized them a day before, and the way that Mark looks at him, you can tell the truth is dawning on him. Macaulay is a straight up murderer (shrug). They carry the dog’s body to a graveyard and throw the dead dog down the well they had been smoking at the day before. Macaulay hums a little dirge and smiles to himself. It seems worth mentioning that a graveyard is a poor place to have a well. Like, corpse run off would be a concern.

There is a brief moment where Mark is alone and Auntie comes over and they start talking about his mom, and death, but in a confusing way where Auntie says “your mom is always alive inside you.” Like, that is not helpful rhetoric for a child that is confused about death and its exact mechanics. Macaulay may have been right when he said that he should have looked at his dead mother’s body, because in the mourning process it can be helpful to be faced with a visual reality to begin processing grief. These people aren’t doing Mark any fucking favors. Then, Macaulay grabs Mark and they go out to the shed for more secret sociopath stuff.

Macaulay tries to convince Mark that killing the dog was an accident, but when they get to the shed there is more creepy shit. Macaulay has made some sort of creepy effigy, a scarecrow type thing with a hat, one of his creepy Michael Myers-esque paper mache masks, and swimming goggles. He wants Mark to help him with something “he’ll never forget.. something ...amazing.” This sounds like something on a scientology pamphlet. ABORT, MARK!!! ABORT!!

He does not abort. They drag the effigie to a bridge, resting on the side of the overpass overlooking the highway. Then, Macaulay tosses the effigie over the overpass causing a massive car crash, smashing a trailer, several cars, and a boat. It’s a mess and Macaulay is loving it!! Mark is horrified, he had no idea what Macaulay’s insidious plan was, and now they are in it together. They run away into the woods as they hear the cops coming. Macaulay tells Mark that he doesn’t know how to have fun- doesn’t he realize that once you figure out that you can do anything, you’re free. You can fly! No one can touch you! Mark tells Macaulay he’s sick. He ain’t wrong.

Mark sees on the news that no one was hurt from the accident they caused, and even starts to approach Uncle to tattle. Macaulay says he’ll just say that Mark did it, he’s so messed up from his mom dying- try it Mark, just try it. See how it plays out. Mark doesn’t go through with it, Macaulay relishes in the control he has over his cousin. Then, Macaulay’s sister comes in, and starts talking about going ice skating, blah blah blah- Macaulay is PISSED she is in his room, and starts twisting her ear and pulling her hair, then Mark pushes him and they start choking each other, Macaulay starts uttering threats under his breath into Mark’s ear about how he’s going to hurt his sister and if he doesn’t believe him, just ask his mom about dead baby Richard…. Then Auntie comes in and breaks it up. Macaulay switches from psycho killer to happy docile boy so quickly, you gotta hand it to his acting chops. This is the role he was born to play.

Mark sees his therapist and he asks her what she thinks makes a person evil. Therapist says “evil is something we call people when we’ve given up trying to understand them.” Hm, what fortune cookie did she get that from? Therapist thinks that Mark thinks he is evil. Mark is like no.. that’s not what I mean. Therapist says she doesn’t believe in evil. Mark says… you should. And runs away. Oh, Mark. Secrets keep you sick. Also Therapist obviously got her degree online at ASU.

At dinner, Auntie and Uncle announce tomorrow they are going out for dinner and the kids will fend for themselves. Aren’t they both like 7? 9 years old? I don’t know, they are both very short. Macaulay says that Mark would like to move into dead baby Richard’s room. This isn’t true, but it sets off a little riff between Macaulay’s parents because Uncle wants to move that baby crap out of there, and Auntie is obviously still grieving and doesn’t want to change the room until she’s ready. Mark insists that it’s not true, Macaulay’s lying but no one really pays attention to him and Auntie is very upset.

The grown-ups go out to dinner, and Mark is understandably worried. Adults laugh it off and say “phone number for the restaurant is by the phone”. That is so antiquated, and I assumed it was purely a movie device where people eating at restaurants receive calls from the front desk. Maybe it isn’t so unusual pre-cell phone, but can you imagine how annoying it would be to work at a restaurant and have people call and ask “hi can I speak with Mr. Smith?” and then you have to do detective work behind the scenes to figure out which guest is Mr. Smith, and then your phone lines are tied up while Mr. Smith and his kid have their little chat, and the restaurant’s phone bill starts to run up because this is pre-digital telecommunications and ugh I’m getting a headache just thinking about how inconvenient that would be. That is a horror movie in and of itself.

Grown-ups go out of town and hide and seek begins. Macaulay immediately cuts the electricity and Mark panics thinking that once Macaulay finds Connie (the little sister, who’s name isn’t established until the movie is halfway over) he will seriously hurt her. Which is logical thinking because Macaulay has said repeatedly he was going to hurt Connie, so fair enough. Hide and seek commences and this game ain’t no game. Connie is laughing her damn butt off, all this attention from these older boys- but it’s seriously stressing Mark out. Mark convinces Connie it’s time for bedtime stories and sleep. Macaulay says “do you seriously think I’d hurt her? What are you going to do? Watch her all night?” He wakes up and Connie is gone, so Mark creeps downstairs and sees the adults talking about dead baby Richard- they are still very sad and Auntie blames herself. Auntie mentions that Macaulay and Connie are skating down and the pond, so Mark rushes down because he knows shit is about to go down.

At the pond, there are a lot of people skating- surely Macaulay would not be so brazen to do this in front of all these people? Skate recklessly with his sister holding his hand? Sure. Kill her in front of hundreds of witnesses? Surely not! Actually, yes. No one seems to notice him hurling her into the roped off section of the lake, but they sure seem to be gathered around while she’s drowning and Macaulay is standing over the hole, holding his hand purposely out of reach. Why are no adults stepping into this situation?? Do they really think Macaulay, a small child, has the capacity to save her life? He just kind of watches as some adults with axes hack her out in the nick of time.

Auntie is having one of her intense cliff-side mourning sessions and Mark crashes to tell her that he saw Macaulay purposely try to kill Connie. Auntie is so pissed, Macaulay is her son and she loves him so shut the FUCK UP, Mark. She slaps him and says don’t tell me lies again, MARK!!

Meanwhile, Connie is still at the hospital for some reason, even though it’s established she is fine. In the dead of night, somehow Macaulay is able to visit her in her weird hospital crib. He’s standing over her, grabbing her pillow to suffocate her, and then all of a sudden the light goes on and Auntie is also in the room and she’s like “what are you doing here?” Newsflash, this kid goes wherever he fucking feels like and does whatever he fucking feels like, MOM! Macaulay slowly backs away and asks his mom if he thinks Connie will remember anything (probably she won’t). You get the sense that Auntie is slowly testing the idea that her son may be the next John Wayne Gacy.

Next, Mark does what he should have done a long friggin time ago- calling his dad to tell him that his cousin kills babies and dogs for a giggle. Dad says talk to Therapist and I’ll be there soon. Actually some good advice! Mark runs to his therapist and sees...MACAULAY in the therapist’s seat!!! BETRAYAL!!! Mark flees the scene, and Macaulay starts telling Therapist that Mark scares him when no one else is around. He hints at the dark shit that “Mark” is doing.

Macaulay finds Mark in the impossibly high tree house, and tells him to back off and stop telling “lies” about him, and lay off talking to his mom. Mark says Auntie IS his mom now- whoa, whoa, whoa.. what the fuck? Mark, you might not be evil but you are maybe a little crazy and someone definitely has to explain death to you in a more age-appropriate way. Macaulay tells Mark not to fuck with him, and I get it. Norman Bates is a little territorial over his mom.

Back at death manor, Mark is woken up by some noises against the window, and looks over to see Macaulay’s bed empty. He checks on Connie and goes downstairs and sees the refrigerator door open. Macaulay appears behind him in the darkness. They have a tense exchange where Mark accuses Macaulay of poisoning the food. Mark starts shoving all the food down the disposal, and Macaulay wakes up his parents as he’s going through this manic food-destroying phase. It’s not a great look, Mark. Point= Macaulay. Parents are pissed. No one believes Mark. Mark is relegated to dead baby Richard’s room for the night.

The next day, Auntie finally goes to Macaulay’s secret shed (FUCKING FINALLY), and discovers the weird crap he’s getting into. He obviously has some fabrication skills, that weapon toy dog killing apparatus didn’t just make itself. These skills would be celebrated as delightfully dark “found object art” if he was in art school. She finds a rubber duckie on the ground- perhaps the rubber duckie that was in the bathtub when dead baby Richard died??? Macaulay interrupts her snooping, and she starts gently asking him if there’s anything he feels bad about, and he replies “nah, I’m good.” Auntie says, where the eff did this come from, I was looking for this duckie after dead baby Richard became a dead baby.” Macaulay utters softly, “It was mine before it was his.” Tale as old as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Mom begins to press him a little harder, and begins to realize her son is actually a little emotional terrorist, and also a cold blooded killer. He snatches the duckie and runs deeper into the woods. THE JIG IS UP. He runs into the graveyard to the corpse well, and throws the duckie down.

Auntie is back to her mourning cliff, perhaps ready to start processing that her son is an evil little shit. Mark catches Macaulay practicing crying in the mirror and he asks him what the fuck he’s up to. Macaulay says “you’re supposed to cry when your mom dies, right?” Well, technically according to Mark, Auntie is Mark’s mom too now (whatever that means). Mark says he’ll kill Macaulay before he lets him kill his mom- he even grabs a pair of scissors and pulls them to the titular good son’s throat, as a warning. Like, maybe Mark isn’t a killer but he does love his ghost Auntie mom. Macaulay is nonplussed, he says if you’re gonna do it, friggin do it Mark. Then Uncle walks in and he is pissed to see his nephew literally about to kill his son. Mark tries to run away and then Uncle locks him into the study.

From the study, Mark sees Macaulay and Auntie outside, going for a walk through his window. Auntie is at this point, on board with the whole “my son probably killed dead baby Richard” train. This walk is probably her trying to coerce a confession out of Macaulay. What she doesn’t know is that she is next on Macaulay’s kill list, so Mark throws a chair through the window of the study and races after them, Uncle and therapist hot on his heels. Pan back to Auntie/Macaulay walk, he asks him to tell her exactly what happened to baby Richard the day he became dead baby Richard… did you kill him? ….”So what if I did?” that little children of the corn looking mother fucker doesn’t care if his mom knows, he’s gonna drop her before they reach the end of mile 1 of this gratuitous walk. She says, we’ll get you help… which pisses Macaulay off. He runs to the mourning cliff, and she chases after him. It’s obvious he is going to try and push her. Which he does. SHe’s hanging there  hanging onto a branch, and he’s standing over her with a rock over his head and then Mark comes out of nowhere and tackles him. Auntie starts climb up the rock face, and the boys are up top trying to kill each other, and then they both roll off the cliff, and they are both hanging on to Auntie’s arms. At first, she’s trying to save them both, but then she realizes the can only choose one to save. Macaulay is laying it on real thick, but in the end she chooses to save Mark because fuck Macaulay Culkin. His career is already at its height, and Elijah Wood’s is just blossoming. Also, when they pan out to Macaulay falling down the mourning cliff, it is much bigger than previous shots suggested.

They both lean over the cliff and watch as Macaulay’s body drifts onto a rock and then slowly out of sight. They embrace each other, knowing that Elijah Wood will go on to never age and star in such movies as The Last Witch Hunter alongside national treasure, Vin Diesel. Meanwhile, Macaulay Culkin will not work for 10 years after Richie Rich and will date Mila Kunis for a surprising amount of time but he will also be addicted to heroin so maybe it’s a wash. Yes, this movie’s ending does tie up the pieces very simply, with evil fading into the distance and Elijah Wood’s career only just beginning. But little does everyone know, Macaulay Culkin is never really gone; he is just waiting in the shadows for a recurring role on The Jim Gaffigan Show. Sleep with one eye open, dear baby Elijah.