January and February are traditionally rough months for new releases. Because movies usually need a release date before December 31st to be eligible for Oscars, the major studios load the Fall with prestige pictures and treat the first two months of the new year as a dumping ground for movies they don’t expect much from.

This year, naturally, is different— the pandemic pushed the Academy Awards back to late April and their eligibility period now ends March 1st, which means you’ll continue to see awards-hopefuls reviewed here over the next few weeks. But today, I’m highlighting an indie film that just made it to VOD after spending some time in whatever theaters are open, because it’s not one that should slip by you unnoticed.

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The Kid Detective, the debut film of Canadian writer-director Evan Morgan that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, starts with an excellent premise: Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody) is a former “kid detective” who continues to solve the same trivial mysteries at age 31. Though once a local celebrity for unraveling cutesy capers, both he and his community carry scars from the town’s first real brush with crime, a kidnapping that he blames himself for never having solved. Now living a stalled life, Abe suddenly finds himself with an opportunity to prove his worth when a naïve high schooler hires him to solve her boyfriend’s vicious murder.

The central conceit is as funny as it sounds, and The Kid Detective executes it well, leaning into black humor that shines brightest in small moments: a clever bit of dialogue here, a subtly hilarious visual detail there. Morgan could have played it safe and still found success, but he deserves credit for taking a more ambitious approach to tone, targeting a number of different emotional reactions that require deft filmmaking to effectively string together. This makes The Kid Detective an interesting point of comparison for Promising Young Woman; by being a bit more reigned-in, Morgan’s film can balance its heightened genre-moments with a sincere exploration of the protagonist’s psyche. Brody deserves a ton of credit here for embodying an egotistic self-pity we’re comfortable laughing at and flashing the self-loathing beneath it at just the right moments to earn our compassion.

Where Emerald Fennell’s swing-for-the-fences approach has the edge on Morgan’s is in conveying the real horror of its central crimes, something The Kid Detective attempts but doesn’t quite manage. That turn from dark comedy into straight-up darkness is a difficult one, and this movie would’ve been better served by leaning more heavily in either direction, rather than following the middle-road that it does. The mystery plot could’ve also used a few more surprises (the twists are foreshadowed a bit too noticeably), but these are only things that keep a very good film from being great, and you’ll be surprised by how little they actually bother you. The Kid Detective is well worthy of your next movie night, and Morgan’s is a name to watch out for moving forward.  

Watch The Kid Detective on Pay Per View at Amazon here.

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