When young Mark (Elijah Wood) goes to stay with his aunt and uncle, his friendship with his cousin Henry (Macaulay Culkin) quickly becomes strained as Henry turns out to be not quite the boy everybody thinks he is.
The films starts simply enough, with two young cousins thrust together by tragedy. Henry seemingly takes his heartbroken ward under his wing and the two set off to spend a few carefree weeks trying to leave Mark’s pain behind. Henry, though, isn’t quite the upstanding young lad people think he is. What begins with the usual hijinks of youth grow into recklessness and ultimately malevolence as Henry’s antics grow increasingly dark as he tests the boundaries first of his friendship with his cousin and then in the control he has over his parents.
Considering the young actors involved and the fact that the film is so heavily dependent upon child actors, it’s impressively dark. Henry’s manipulations may be a bit beyond what one would expect from a child his age, but that’s certainly forgivable. Culkin brings a pleasantly surprising darkness to the character and Wood is clearly already on his way to mastering the downtrodden hero he played so well years later in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The writing at times is suspect and many of the characters have a tendency to become window dressing at various points through the film, but this really is a film about young Henry who we first see as a bit of a rambunctious child but come to realize is well on his way to being a sociopath.
What really stands out about this film is the ending – not only the shock of the ending, but the melancholy poignancy of the final shot. THAT is what most people will take away from the film and that makes up for a lot of the small blemishes.