Relative Fear

(George Mihalka, Canada, 1994)


Nature or nurture? This classic question is the basis of many a popular movie, but it is of little concern to the makers of the Canadian production Relative Fear.

The premise of the plot is as plain as it is lurid. Two babies are switched at birth; one is the offspring of a well-off, perfectly adjusted middle-class couple, and the other belongs to a pair of vicious, psychotic serial murderers (a little like Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers [1994]).

Before too long, the good couple discover they have an autistic child in their home whose only expressive outlet is to watch the Crime Channel on cable TV and draw its most sensational, bloody images in crayon.

As unusual deaths begin happening at an alarming rate around the house, these parents wonder whether there is an angelically well-behaved child languishing somewhere in a state institution ...

Most of the film unreels as a modern variation on the Bad Seed style of horror-thriller so prevalent in the '60s – and which clearly had a comeback in the '90s, judging from this movie and The Good Son (1993).

Director George Mihalka cleverly hides the clues that eventually bring the question of nature or nurture into play at the surprising, action-packed denouement.

Writer Kurt Wimmer went on to a directorial career, whipping up a following with the sci-fi Equilibrium (2002).

© Adrian Martin December 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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