Monday, July 2, 2018

The Wrong Son (Stargazer Films, Synthetic Cinema International, Dominion Pictures, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I got my “fix” of Lifetime last night with the non-“premiere” film they showed at 10 p.m., The Wrong Son. As you might guess from the title, it’s another Lifetime movie in which the long-lost child of a pair of well-heeled suburban parents suddenly turns up after five, 10 or (in this case) 20 years missing — but is it the long-lost child or an impostor? Lost Boy was by far the best of these (at least the best of the ones I’ve seen) because it maintained the is-he-or-isn’t-he suspense longer than most of them and, even when the “lost boy” was definitively established as an impostor, who he really is and what he really wants are powerfully left ambiguous. This one was both written and directed by Nick Everhart, though Shane O’Brien got an “original story” credit, and it was well done, with finely honed acting — especially by Olivia D’Abo (one of the few Lifetime leads who actually has a reputation outside Lifetime) as the mother and a quite charismatic actor named Mason Dye, who was in Lifetime’s adaptation of V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic, as the phony Matt, her alleged son. It also benefits from Everhart’s neo-Gothic direction, in which many of the scenes are played almost as a horror film and there’s a peculiar color scheme. The plot deals with suburban mom Sarah Sherwood (Olivia D’Abo) and her picture-perfect husband, who one day take their two tow-headed blond sons Ian (Ryan Herzog) and Matt (Landan Riddell) to the beach, only Matt disappears. Twenty years pass, and Ian grows up to be a strikingly handsome blond man (Dan Amboyer), but a month before Ian is scheduled to get married, his dad dies in an auto accident. 

Later Ian’s sister-in-law is murdered by a mysterious woman who turns out to be the woman who kidnapped Matt from the beach so many years ago, and raised him as her son — though she keeps him captive in a remote mountain cabin (as Charles has asked during previous Lifetime movies, why do Lifetime villains always seem to own, or at least have access to, remote mountain cabins?) and sent her own son to impersonate him so she could grab the fortune Ian’s and Matt’s dad left him — and for which she’s eliminating the other heirs by sabotaging their cars, which she did first to the father and then to Ian — though Ian survived. There’s a marvelously suspenseful scene in which Ian’s wife solicits Matt’s (the false one) help in getting her husband into a bathtub while he’s so zonked out on painkillers he can’t move under his own power, and while she’s out of the room Ian’s body slips under the water’s surface and Matt is clearly torn over whether to pull him out or let him drown. But once again a potentially good premise for a thriller is let down by the over-the-top melodramatics of the writing: it turns out the bad girl’s motive is she dated Matt’s and Ian’s dad during high school and expected to marry him, only he married Sarah instead, and when she ran into the four of them at the beach that long-ago day she was so incensed at the way she thought Sarah was neglecting her kids that she just took one of them — and at the end the real Matt (David Garelick, who does look more like Dan Amboyer’s brother than Mason Dye!) grabs the gun with which his foster mom was going to kill his real one and is about to shoot her when Sarah talks him out of it, the foster mom tries to make a break for it but the police — summoned by Sarah’s friend and partner in her real-estate business — arrive just in time to take the villainess and the false Matt into custody. Once again a story premise that could have been compelling just gets sunk by the sheer weight of its melodrama — though Mason Dye is a hot enough actor (in both senses of the word!) I hope he gets some opportunities to show his stuff outside of Lifetime!