Bright daylight. A broad, clean, upmarket street with trees lining its sides. A young girl walking by almost carelessly to the tune of Nancy Sinatra’s Sugar Town. She spots someone in a car, waves, and then walks towards them and out of frame. This is the prologue of Evan Morgan’s The Kid Detective. Once the credits roll, we’re snatched away to the present-day life of Abe Applebaum. By the end of the film, if you remember this prologue, what you’ll discover about it will truly haunt you. The Kid Detective is the kind of film which serves the horrors and mundaneness of everyday life in equal measure — it’s up to you what you’re drawn to.
Abe Applebaum, played by a terrifically sulky and bitter Adam Brody, is a child prodigy whose prime is now behind him. The once much-loved kid detective is now an adult, a loser, taking on menial mysteries, making no money and being an embarrassment to his parents. Abe is violently resisting adulting. The first few minutes of the film, introducing Abe Applebaum, are delightful. A short flashback and a shockingly ordinary present-day parallel help build both sympathy and affinity towards his character. It’s funny and real in a dark sort of way.
This timbre remains throughout the film — a mix of overwhelming melancholy underlined by the frivolity of modern lives. Evan Morgan lingers on these details. And then, he throws a spark where you expect none. For instance, in a scene, at dinner, Abe’s father questions his decisions. Abe responds angrily, “At 12, the Mayor gave me the key to the fucking city,” banging the table, leaving everyone awkward. Except for the two kids whose eyes light up at the sound of the swear words. (Sidebar: The censor board kindly protects us from such words, but that’s perhaps not an angle Evan Morgan intended.)
Even though the central mystery in the film is a murder, Abe Applebaum’s ‘investigation’ isn’t what we’d expect it to be. There’s no process of triangulating means, motive and opportunity. Not even a pin-up board with clues lined up. Only some reluctant running around asking people inappropriate questions.
In the process, Abe comes across as pretentious, clueless, unaware and horribly misplaced. He drives around with a high school kid, facing up to his inadequacies over and over. He’s obnoxious in what I’d imagine is a polite Canadian sort of way. He tells someone that she’s lucky her parents are dead because his “parents are always on his ass”. Following it up hurriedly with an apology for his insensitivity.
He’s difficult to root for. After all, how can you root for someone who doesn’t back himself? It’s almost exhausting. As if Evan Morgan realises this himself, he throws in a scene where an old and out school principal complains about how overwhelming everything is. “Maybe there is nobility in giving up,” he says. “Maybe,” Abe replies. The defeatism hanging in the air for a moment before Abe looks away, unable to bear its true weight.
The real pleasures of The Kid Detective are in its words. In the existential conversations that underline every investigation — be it the stripper, the school principal or the Police Chief; in the poetry that the schoolboy writes for Caroline; in the scenes involving the shared toilet! There is another layer to every dialogue, another meaning to every sentence; it’s even more delightful the second time around.
The journey of Abe Applebaum is less about his redemption and more about his unravelling. Was he a detective at all when he was a kid? Is he really a detective now? “It’s difficult to accept the difference between who you are in your head and who you are in the world,” he says at one point. At the end of the film, he does reconcile the two.
My undying interest in murder mysteries is only partly about the thrill of finding the killer. It’s more about what we think as the most heinous crime has to say about who we are. The Kid Detective is a unique film in that regard. It brings together issues of generational disconnect, millennial angst, social niceties, sexual violence and pure psychopathy into an almost stoic story (never once giving away the suspense, might I add).
If you’re up for a measured, indulgent, cerebral sort of murder mystery, The Kid Detective is a delight.