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“THE BOY” (Movie Review)

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Craig William Macneill’s THE BOY focuses on the exquisite loneliness of a child’s life and a meditation on that child’s development into a murderer. Not a horror film in the most direct sense, the movie is poetic, quiet and methodical, and meditative in tone, almost as still and isolated as the landscape in which it was shot.

THE BOY (in select theaters today and on VOD next Tuesday, August 18) follows 9-year-old Ted (Jared Breeze), who lives and helps maintain a hotel with his father (David Morse) in the middle of a desert town. A mysterious Stranger (Rainn Wilson) is involved in an accident on the road by the hotel; the local cops are suspicious of the Stranger and start to inquire about a fire and his lost wife. Ted and the Stranger begin to develop a deep bond, which threatens the Father—and as the relationship strengthens between two people who are evidently a mirror reflection years in the making, the child’s morbid preoccupation with death grows. As we observe at the beginning of the film, Ted leaves treats in the middle of the street to lure animals into being hit by oncoming cars as he watches, stone-faced—the kind of roadkill that caused the Stranger to collide with their lives.

Adapted from the story “The Henley Road Motel” in the book MISS CORPUS by Clay McLeod Chapman (who co-wrote the script with the director), THE BOY is the first in a planned film trilogy, and a fascinating, beautifully shot, slow-build opening chapter. The acting is understated, and confrontational in its silence—a truthful document of this kind of existence. But to watch THE BOY is to enter white noise and isolation for almost two hours. We spend much of this time alone with Ted, trapped with him in his lonely descent. Morse enhances the movie’s exquisite silence with the looming physicality of his presence. His dialogue is so sparse as to almost be subliminal, the text scaled back at the actor’s own request.

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When the Stranger arrives, the film’s voices grow louder. This newly introduced dark character hints at a possible future of Ted’s evolution, making it evident why the young boy might be attracted to him, and why his dad instinctively wants to separate them. Wilson’s magnetic characterization is a counterpoint to Morse and Breeze’s quiet portrayals, and even the hint about the Stranger’s possible criminal past does not deter Ted from his engagement and fascination.

THE BOY depicts a constant cycle of eradicating life, through performance, silence and the destruction of animals and eventually human beings. While in a movie like THE BUTCHER BOY, the protagonist’s personality tends toward the operatic, lashing out like a capricious storm, Ted is withdrawn and almost clinically observant. In a key scene that contrasts with much of the film’s tone, Ted brings the Stranger to his shed at night to show him the bats dwelling there, bouncing a ball into the darkness that sends a flood of the winged creatures bursting forth. Ted and the Stranger fall to the ground, but instead of being scared, they’re laughing. This note of abandon in an environment of stillness offers great insight into the duo, and how excited they both are by risk-taking behavior—a hallmark of the pathology of psychopaths.

That said, unless one is aware that two films will follow THE BOY to finish the cycle, this one may not satisfy certain audiences as the study of the incubation of a killer. In the aforementioned THE BUTCHER BOY and other movies like THE BOY WHO CRIED BITCH, the psychosis is worn much more on the youthful protagonists’ sleeves—it’s more direct and reflective of what a young sociopath would do. Ted’s obsession with death might seem merely normal to not only horror fans, but as what any child could experience as they learn about the world around them.

This stripped-down emotional approach is what makes THE BOY distinctive. The pacing is so measured, verging at times on tedious, that it needs to be viewed in a certain mindset. If you can weather the whispering slowness to get to the conclusion, it then crescendos like the crest of a typhoon. THE BOY is far more of an art film and a character study than typical genre fare—but darker and more brutal, with scenes of animal torture and eventual eruptions of violence, than something for a typical art-house or adult-drama crowd. Its discipline and restraint of execution is admirable, and for those willing to surrender to its unusual, muted approach, it can be a powerful experience.

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About the author
Heather Buckley
Heather has a dual career as a Producer (Red Shirt Pictures) and a film journalist. Raised on genre since the age of 13, she’s always been fascinated by extreme art cinema, monster movies and apocalyptic culture. Her first love was a Gorezone no. 9 bought at Frank's Stationary in Keyport, NJ. She has not looked back since. Follow her on Twitter @_heatherbuckley
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