Hitchcock’s psychological suspense Shadow of a Doubt (1943) has spurred an entire sub-genre of films. Being forced to live alongside a murderer whom everyone likes, be it a relative or a neighbor, inevitably results in the attempted murder of the potential snitch. There are a number of films like this one, but the most remarkably similar in story and style has to be Joseph Ruben’s 1993 film The Good Son.
When Mark (Elijah Wood) must stay with his aunt and uncle, one of his cousins, Henry (Macaulay Culkin), seems a little odd. Henry is very polite, nice, and generally well-liked. He and Mark are even the same age, and the two seem to get along at first. Mark learns that a few months before his visit, his three year-old cousin, Richard, drowned in the bathtub. Mark’s first big hint is how Henry talks about death. From there, things go downhill quickly. Henry’s excursions with his cousin consist of strange, disturbing, and even deadly activities. Mark grows even more fearful of Henry when he reveals that baby Richard’s death was not an accident. Unfortunately, Henry is such a perfect son that Mark’s accusations go completely dismissed. Outnumbered and labeled as hysterical, Mark can do nothing but put up with Henry’s psycopathy until he can leave his aunt and uncle’s. Eventually, Henry goes so far as to try to kill his own sister on a frozen lake. Again, no one believes Mark. The incident is ruled an accident. In the end, Mark’s aunt finally takes notice and finds a damning piece of evidence against Henry, but it is too late to save everyone.
From the sordid ending to the claustrophobic, psychological tension, this film screams “Hitchcock.” The plot is so similar it can almost be called a rip-off, though Joseph Ruben does vary the story quite a bit. The filming style is not overtly gruesome or grotesque. It does not go for “shock value,” but rather psychological value. As in Shadow of a Doubt, the family’s refusal to see beyond the façade of their beloved relative proves deadly. While it was panned by critics for being too violent for children (and too violent a film for children to play in), the performances of young Wood and Culkin remain praised. From start to finish, this film is rife with Hitchcock’s legacy.