Face-Off: The Good Son vs. Orphan

We have a couple creepy kid movies coming our way very soon - the Irish horror film THE HOLE IN THE GROUND will be available for viewing on DirecTV as of January 31st, and THE PRODIGY arrives in theatres on February 8th. In anticipation of these releases, this week's Face-Off looks back at a couple creepy kid movies of the past: Joseph Ruben's 1993 film THE GOOD SON and Jaume Collet-Serra's ORPHAN from 2009. Both films involve cold weather, treehouses, frozen ponds, and little killers... But which one will take the win when they're put in competition with each other?


The characters of THE GOOD SON are suffering from two different tragedies, and the film does a great job of showing how deeply they have been affected by their losses. The film begins with young Mark Evans losing his mom, which is why he has to go stay with his uncle's family for a couple weeks when his father goes on a business trip. Mark ponders the afterlife and attends therapy sessions throughout the film. Meanwhile, his aunt Susan is mourning the loss of her youngest child, who recently drowned in the bathtub. Mark and Susan are brokenhearted people, and it's an emotional experience watching them deal with their grief.

Kate and John Coleman have been through the wringer by the time we meet them in ORPHAN. Not only is Kate a recovering alcoholic trying to get past the fact that John once cheated on her, but they have also been devastated by their third child being stillborn. Wanting to give the love they had intended to give that child to someone who really needs it, they decide to adopt. While the movie does sort of take the easy way out by depicting the loss of their child through an over-the-top nightmare sequence, it does deal with their troubled past, as their history causes drama throughout the film and the pain they feel is obvious.


While staying with his relatives, Mark begins to realize that his cousin Henry is a violent psychopath. As Henry, Macaulay Culkin was given some lines that most child actors would probably not have been able to handle, and while I can picture the screenwriter typing them out as they're spoken Culkin does a fine job delivering them. His Henry really does come off like a heartless, dangerous little creep, and this isn't the sort of movie where the scenes with the young killer go far over-the-top. It's disturbing how realistic Henry is, even if he probably wouldn't be talking the way he does sometimes.

Esther looks like a kid, everyone thinks she is one, she's played by one (Isabelle Fuhrman), but the person the Colemans adopt is not a kid. She's a 30-something with a pituitary issue that stunted her growth and now she makes her way through life pretending to be a child. This is one of my favorite twists ever, it's so nuts. ORPHAN is still a creepy kid movie for the most part because the twist doesn't happen until late, but the reveal adds a fascinating (and amusing) extra layer to the film. Fuhrman did a great job of playing both the prim and proper act Esther puts on and her cunning, deadly side.


Henry is a tween terror from the moment we meet him, and his bad behavior escalates as the film goes along. He starts out busting windows, smoking cigarettes, and teasing angry dogs, and before long he's killing animals, tossing a dummy off an overpass and into traffic, threatening the life of his little sister, and terrorizing his cousin. THE GOOD SON is exceptionally effective at unnerving the viewer because the things Henry does are exactly the sort of things real life juvenile delinquents get up to.

It's a while before Esther does anything really bad. She makes inappropriate comments, drops an F-bomb, throws a fit. Who can blame her for being pissed? She's 30 and going to grade school. Then a kid picks on her and she busts the kid's leg. When there's a chance her cover might be blown, Esther goes off the rails. She threatens the life of her new brother, frames Karen for abuse, tries to seduce John... She has a history of murder, and she's willing to keep killing, even making a little girl complicit in the murder of a nun.


Elijah Wood makes for a good protagonist as Mark, a kid who is open to breaking some rules with his cousin while he makes his way through the loss of his mom, but has limits on what he'll go along with. When he figures out how dangerous Henry is, Mark is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the rest of his family safe. The most prominent other family member is Wendy Crewson as Henry's mother Susan, who is understandably resistant to the idea that her son could be a little maniac. The truth is unavoidable, though.

Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard do solid work as the Colemans. John can be frustrating sometimes because he's aloof, but Farmiga really gets Kate's emotional issues across and she becomes our heroine because she senses something is off about Esther. Their son Danny (Jimmy Bennett) is annoying, but not enough that we want to see him dead. Child actress Aryana Engineer hasn't worked much since this film but she delivers a strong performance as Max Coleman, who communicates with sign language and forms an unfortunate bond with Esther.


If you have grown to hate Henry by the end of the film, which is quite likely, you'll probably be satisfied with the way the filmmakers chose to deal with him in the end. However, there's an aspect of THE GOOD SON that has haunted me for 25 years, ever since I first watched it. The ending puts the fate of two children on Susan's shoulders, and she's forced to decide between her own son, who may be a psycho but is still her child, and the good nephew that, until a few days ago, she hadn't even seen since he was a toddler. It's quite a moment.

The second half of ORPHAN exists entirely in horror movie alternate reality, a series of over-the-top events building up to a climax that involves an extended stalk and chase through the Coleman household, property damage, gunfire, and Kate being on top of things that might break: first the roof of a greenhouse and then the ice on a frozen pond. In the final moment Kate delivers a one-liner before revealing that she packs a hell of a kick. It's a serviceable ending, and maybe fittingly ridiculous, but not great.


ORPHAN is fun to watch and I like it a lot, but in the end I find THE GOOD SON to be the more engaging and disturbing of these two creepy kid movies. Or one creepy kid movie and one creepy little person movie. ORPHAN is a piece of goofy entertainment, while THE GOOD SON has elements that have troubled me ever since I first saw it when I was around the same age as Mark and Henry.

Do you agree with the outcome of this Face-Off, or do you think ORPHAN should have taken the win? Share your thoughts on these films by leaving a comment below - and let us know what your favorite creepy kid movie is, if it's not one of these two. If you have suggestions for future Face-Off articles you can send them to [email protected].



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