Beware this thoroughly creepy TV movie, which reduces child abuse to a kind of horror film. Based on a true story, Child of Rage presents Jill and Rob Tyler (thirty-something’s Mel Harris and The A-Team’s Dwight Schultz), a childless couple who adopt two kids from a foster home — 7-year-old Catherine (Ashley Peldon) and her younger brother, Eric (Samuel Gifaldi). From the second she’s on screen, Catherine is made to seem hostile toward everyone she meets. The script, by Phil Penningroth and Suzette Couture, features stiff, psycho-babbling dialogue and serves primarily to demonize the child, who is capable of all sorts of violence — she beats her brother, wrecks her room, even tortures the family dog.
It turns out that Catherine was abused and molested by her biological parents, and the latter half of Child of Rage is about the treatment Catherine undergoes with a therapist played by Mariette Hartley. Under the direction of Larry Peerce (Wired), Child of Rage exploits the feelings of affection and pity we have for helpless children, using those emotions to hold our attention to a melodramatic, manipulative film. The movie is simultaneously so upsetting and so uninvolving that all I could think about was how cruel it seemed to be to put Peldon, the young actress, through all this misery. D