** out of ****
I wanted to like this film. As a fan of evil kid movies and the horror genre in general, I was told that this one was an essential viewing. After watching it, I can neither deny nor agree that it is, in any way, essential. It is historical for popularizing a trend in cinema that is still kind of trendy today (see “Orphan” and the mediocre “The Omen” remake) and regardless of what I think of it, the film will always resonate with a certain group of people. My problems with “The Bad Seed” don’t stem from any negative preconceptions I might have towards these evil child movies; they are typically mean-spirited (but aren’t most horror films?) and unsettling. And it’s often difficult to sympathize with anyone because the kids drive their respective parents to their wits end. I have no problem with these things, and instead I quite enjoy them most days. But…even though it might have inspired a genre, the execution of this horror-thriller is not particularly impressive if you ask me. The fans – and there are many of them – will probably disagree.
Patty McCormack is truly creepy as Rhoda, a seemingly innocent young child - a piano prodigy, a loving daughter to her mother Christine (Nancy Kelly) and an affectionate admirer of her father (William Hope) – with a nasty tendency to commit terrible acts. It starts with the jealous drowning of a kid in her class at school who won a medal that Rhoda feels she had deserved to win. The parents of the kid (the always drunk Mrs. Daigle, played by Eileen Eckhart, and her husband) visit the house and insist that Rhoda had something to do with their little boy’s death. Of course, Christine – at home with only Rhoda and the housekeepers since daddy is away on military duty – believes that her daughter is not truly responsible, but as her behavior becomes progressively peculiar, she starts to have her doubts. But who wouldn’t, honestly?
I can see where the film was shocking and provocative for its time. Before this film, I don’t believe there was another evil child movie, or at least not one quite like it. For a lot of people, it pushed buttons even though none of the child’s evil deeds are shown on-screen. But viewing it now in 2012, it’s clear to see it has aged; and not particularly well. Whenever I watch an older film, I am willing to put on a completely different mindset entirely; which would explain why I enjoy the Hitchcockian thrillers and even the early works of Dario Argento. Indeed, we have better effects and actors now; but I believe atmosphere never dies, and that a truly good film – no matter how effects laden it was for its time – can still entertain even today. That’s just not the case with “The Bad Seed”. It may be borderline blasphemous to some, but I’m not even going to give the film the credit of being well-made.
In spite of the particular premise, which is and always will be genuinely creepy, the execution of the film’s plot is almost beyond disappointing. Director Mervyn LeRoy just doesn’t seem like a very motivated filmmaker. Maybe I’m wrong, but I only counted a few frames where “The Bad Seed” was actually down-to-earth atmospheric; although those few frames do count. LeRoy knows how to direct his actors, four of which got Academy Awards nominations for their performances, but not his material. I never felt as if there was really an established mood that ran throughout the picture other than that here we have this nice, pretty young girl who is at first ready to give her daddy a basket of hugs for his baskets of kisses and within the next hour murdering her classmates in cold blood. LeRoy runs his ideas into the ground with only middling success. The only thing moderately “shocking” is the ending, which is just tasteless and cold enough to leave its mark.
What can I say? I think “The Bad Seed” is quite possibly one of the most overrated films of all time. I was hooked for the first forty minutes and then the thing just lost me from then on. It’s a privileged piece of cinema and enjoys a following these days, and I wouldn’t tell people not to see it per se, but I personally could not wait for it to end. It is a two hour film and somehow manages to feel a lot longer. I may revisit it one day, but not anytime soon. Tell me what you wish. I love films like this, normally. But “The Bad Seed” did nothing for me other than fill me with rage for not being able to access it as so many others have. I want to be in on the praise and the admiration; although I can only be in on the respect. This is not a bad movie, but I don’t think it’s a particularly good one either. I don’t know what to call it. Not slow-burn, because I’m usually into that when it’s done right. Not thrilling, because of how much it’s aged. Let’s just stick with boring, plodding, and fascinatingly detached from all resonance.