The balance of credible psychological drama and caustic black comedy so evident in recent Scandi cinema is again affirmed by Zaida Bergroth’s “The Good Son.” Developed by Bergroth and co-scenarist Jan Forsstrom (also credited as editor and music consultant) with lead thesps Elina Knihtila and Samuli Niitymaki in mind, pic charts one very rocky weekend in the company of a self-centered celebrity actress and the slightly monstrous son she’s created, nimbly traversing an unpredictable arc from in-joke biz satire to darker terrain. Niche offshore sales are likely.
Local movie star Leila Manner (Knihtila) is entering middle age, one of many topics one simply doesn’t broach with her. (A younger actress here who foolishly opines that they represent “different generations” at a dinner party finds herself literally kicked out.) Her vanity, and career, are currently under threat: Her latest film has opened to scathing reviews, and her own public disparagements of the pic have the producers threatening legal action. Thus, she beats a hasty retreat to a country home located on a picturesque plot of isolated lakefront forest.
In tow are her two children (from different relationships, natch). Being only 7 or so, Unto (Eetu Julin) hasn’t yet been fully warped by his mother’s influence; his endless voyeuristic videotaping suggests a willingness to detach and observe rather than get sucked into the fire. Teenaged Illmari (Niittymaki), however, has already seen way too much in Mom’s service. He’s expected to be her confidant, bodyguard, flatterer and personal assistant, then vanish whenever she’s starting yet another ill-considered affair.
After vowing she just wants to be with her boys, short-attention-spanned Leila promptly invites several loyal flunkies to visit and drunkenly carouse. Under the influence, things get loud and unpleasant, leading most to exit quietly the morning after. One who’s invited to stay is writer Aimo (Eero Aho), who’s attractive and available enough to merit consideration as Mom’s new guy, not that her standards appear very high.
Actually, Aimo is an intelligent, nice, successful grown-up who’s survived his own troubles and is mellow enough to accept Leila’s mercurial mood swings as the narcissistic theater they are. If he can last the weekend, he might stick around long enough to really be good for her. But his presence brings out an increasingly scary streak of mingled jealousy and protectiveness in Illmari, even as the kid is distracted by his own first-love prospects with besotted local girl Karita (Anna Paavilainen).
Using handheld lensing and kinetic editing to Dogma-esque effect, “The Good Son” builds small moments into key narrative developments, and stokes seemingly trivial tensions toward the realization that something is seriously wrong here, not stopping short of potential violence or mental illness. These 87 minutes never feel rushed or contrived, and every moment counts in setting up a resolution that might easily have seemed over-melodramatic.
All perfs are tops, with Knihtila thoroughly milking Leila’s brat comedics while still limning a fully rounded character; Niittymaki is exceptional in a difficult role whose roiling emotions are almost entirely expressed nonverbally.