"The Bad Seed Returns": Despite McKenna Grace's unnerving moments, the sequel never really blossoms

The Lifetime sequel to "The Bad Seed" grows up but doesn't quite live up to its murderous potential

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published September 5, 2022 3:30PM (EDT)

The Bad Seed Returns (A+E / Lifetime)
The Bad Seed Returns (A+E / Lifetime)

"The Bad Seed Returns," the Lifetime sequel to the 2018 film "The Bad Seed," has more than a little in common with "Orphan: First Kill."

Both feature killer kids (sort of) and importantly, both mark a return to character for their original leads. Isabelle Fuhrman returned to the "Orphan" prequel to again play Lena, an adult woman posing as a child in order to find shelter and maybe love. And Mckenna Grace of "The Handmaid's Tale" steps into Emma's perfect, probably patent leather shoes once more for "The Bad Seed Returns," a direct sequel to the Rob Lowe-directed, made-for-TV remake of the 1956 film, which was itself an adaptation of the 1954 novel and play.

Both Emma and Lena kill when things don't go their way. And things rarely do. But "The Bad Seed Returns" is more subdued in its scares. It's also a family reunion of sorts. Grace wrote the script along with her father Ross Burge; Barbara Marshall, who wrote the 2018 film, did a rewrite. According to Grace, in an interview with The List, "Ours was too dark and too graphic and violent," and Marshall was needed to tone the film down for its network release. It's a shame because the fear in the movie flickers out, never really catching fire like the wood shop of the first film.

The strength of "The Bad Seed Returns" is, frankly, in its seed: the shadow of its 2018 version and its star. The talented Grace attempts to carry a film that doesn't seem very hardy. It might not last the winter so enjoy its small blooms while you can.

In "The Bad Seed," widowed dad David (Lowe) attempts to manage a very profitable furniture enterprise while raising his daughter, Emma, alone. Emma is 9 years old and a little strange. Her teacher never gets to finish telling her dad what exactly may be at play (psychopathy?), but does point out that the girl seems to be in her own world a lot of the time, and could be a leader, if she wanted to be. Emma can be whatever she chooses, putting on emotions like the clothes she lays out carefully on her bed. Her life is an act, one she practices to perfection in order to imitate aspects like empathy. One of the more chilling scenes in "The Bad Seed" features the child in front of a mirror, rehearsing phrases (a throwback to "basket of kisses!") until she believes she sounds natural. 

The whole movie is a lot for Grace to carry on her sweater-set shoulders.

That scene is repeated in "The Bad Seed Returns," as is the arranging of her outfits on her bed before school. Everything Emma does appears calculated, honed for maximum effect. Though "The Bad Seed" wasn't terrifying, by any stretch, it was unsettling, particularly in how the child manipulated the adults around her, something Grace inhabited with unnerving effect.  

That effect feels diluted in "The Bad Seed Returns." The new, Louise Archambault-directed film (which was delayed airing due to the Texas elementary school shooting) starts when Emma is a teenager. After the death of her father, she's been living with her aunt Angela (Michelle Morgan) who recently married and has a baby son. Any infant in a horror movie raises the alarm in me, as does the presence of a dog. 

The Bad Seed ReturnsThe Bad Seed Returns (A+E / Lifetime)"The Bad Seed Returns" does some interesting things with the notion of new romantic partners, blended families and new children. Emma preferred how things were when it was just her and her aunt, and expresses jealousy both of her new Uncle Robert (Benjamin Ayres) and baby cousin. Robert is the first to become suspicious of the girl's behavior. But despite Ayres and the doggedly optimistic Angela, who in Morgan's likable portrayal becomes more and more beaten down, unable to keep making excuses for Emma, the film feels a little empty without the bittersweetness of Lowe's David. Or even Chloe, Emma's sadistic young babysitter from the first film: Sarah Dugdale, who went onto to terrorize her aunt Connie as Lizzie in "Virgin River." 

The ripe for horror setting of high school is not really taken advantage of.

Grace ("Ghostbusters: Afterlife") was scary as little Emma, and she's scary as 15-year-old Emma too, making her eyes go dead and lifeless, her facial muscles slack. Then, in the next moment, she imitates hysteria on a phone call. She's an excellent mimic, a shrewd observer. In one darkly humorous moment, Emma takes an online quiz to determine if she's a psychopath and privately celebrates the results. But the whole movie is a lot for Grace to carry on her sweater-set shoulders.

The Bad Seed ReturnsThe Bad Seed Returns (A+E / Lifetime)The introduction of someone from Emma's old life injects a bit of energy into the plot, which for the most part, drags in an expected, easy path. The ripe for horror setting of high school is not really taken advantage of. Sometimes the scariest aspects are Emma's conservative, matchy-matchy outfits, which seem like the clothes of a much younger child, or with their headbands and pleated skirts, like a killer Sabrina Spellman

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"The Bad Seed Returns" is fine for some light, holiday-weekend viewing. But like a life cut short by a killer kid, the film mostly makes one wonder what could have been (especially as first imagined by Grace and her surgeon father) and hollowly, leaves more questions than answers. Why did Emma go for years without incident? What started her down this homicidal path? What exactly is a basket of kisses?  

"The Bad Seed Returns" premieres Labor Day, Sept. 5 at 8/7c on Lifetime and streams the next day. Watch a trailer via YouTube below: 



By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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