Greetings once again, boils and ghouls, and welcome to the final regular installment of Reviews You’ll Never Use. I regret to announce that the column will be ending as a recurring piece, though may reappear now and again in the future.
Our topic tonight is a film that I followed with some interest through its development, The Boy. Often with horror films, writers and/or directors will have a short film, a treatment, or sometimes even a fully finished movie (though usually badly in need of editing), but cannot get distribution. It’s a fairly common phenomenon that affects most low-budget filmmakers when they’re just getting started. Such was the case with director Craig William Macneill. The Boy was only his second full-length feature as a director, and I recall reading some years ago about how he was trying to drum up financing to turn his short, Henley, into a full-fledged movie. The concept he outlined was to do a trilogy, following the life of a serial killer through early childhood, into young adulthood, and then as an older man. I thought it was an interesting idea, and looked forward to the first installment. Certainly the whole, “what makes a serial killer tick” shtick has been done before – even Rob Zombie took his reboot of Halloween in that direction (though for my money, nothing has yet topped the excellent Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). However, it had never been done over the course of three films (unless you count the trials and tribble-ations of Anakin Skywalker). Eventually, the movie saw the light of day due in large part to Chiller Films, which is part of that horror-dedicated cable channel I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.
Truth be told, that was a few years back, and I’d kind of forgotten about the whole thing until recently when I saw it for sale on the cheap at Movie Trading Company. So I brought that bastard home & popped it in the ye olde Blu-Ray player. And an hour and forty-five minutes later, I awoke with a start as something finally fucking happened at the end of the movie.
So let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: the director, bless his heart, had more brains and artistic chutzpah than your average trash low-budget horror filmmaker and didn’t want to do another throw-away slasher. Okay, cool, I get it, more power to you. But I think he goes a bit off the rails in trying just so damned hard to make you take this film seriously, and to not lurch into being a stereotypical horror film. Camera angles are static, the background sounds are exaggerated for effect (with no background music through the entirety, except what characters play on their stereo), and there are just too many cock-tease moments before the final payoff.
We open in 1989, at a crappy roadside motel run by David Morse, and his troubled son, Jared Breeze. The motel is clearly dying, and Morse has taken counsel of despair and despondency. He does pay his son a quarter per carcass to keep roadkill scraped up off the highway, I suppose to make the place less creepy-seeming to passersby. Breeze is stultified by this life, never interacting with other children except when the increasingly scarce guests happen to have their own crotch-fruit. His father, though going through the motions, seems to have checked out of having any sort of vitality, and his mother ran off years ago with one of the guests.
Eventually, curiosity gets the best of him, and instead of simply waiting for the highway to provide his income, he decides in true capitalist fashion to go out and make shit happen. So he seeds the middle of the road with potato chips & chicken feed, to draw animals that will then be hit by cars. This plan goes slightly awry when Rainn Wilson (I always hated that fucking first name) hits a deer and totals his car, causing him to have to stay at the motel. The titular Boy grows close to Rainn over a number of days, though the reluctant guest gives plenty of clues to us in the audience that he may not be a wholesome person. Another couple with a little boy stop in, and Breeze disables their car so that they’ll stay an extra day (and almost drowns their son while playing in the swimming pool). Our little protagonist (antagonist?) displays unusual behaviors, such as stealing Rainn’s dead wife’s ashes and looming over the guests in their beds at night.
By the end of the film, he’s managed to coerce Rainn into chasing him through a junkyard where he laid a tarp over a deep pit, trapping a severely wounded Rainn presumably for forced boy-on-man sex at a later date. He also cops a feel off a drunk girl at a prom party that has rented out a few of the motel rooms. The boys at the party kick his ass pretty bad, and his drunk father only yells at him for having disturbed the guests. So Breeze takes things into his own hands, waits until everyone is passed out asleep, and burns the fucking motel to the ground while everyone screams inside.
I don’t want to bash this movie. It was ambitious, to do a slow-burn think piece as your first big horror film, and that takes both guts and some level of thinking above and beyond what most hacks in this field are capable of. So I applaud Mr. Macneill for that. I would much rather someone make this attempt and not quite succeed than give in to the siren song of doing Friday the 13th Part Eleventy. The problem is, up until the end, the entire fucking thing is nothing but an hour and thirty minutes of atmosphere and set-up, and by the time you finally get to the payoff, it’s too damned late. Nobody cares anymore. Shit fucking fire, I’d fallen asleep in my (admittedly very comfortable) Lay-Z-Boy. The vanishingly few non-superhero films that are being made anymore should find their strength in being the opposite of Fortress Mouse and its motto of “There Is No Such Thing As Too Many Overwrought CGI Battles”. These movies should take their time with pace, and rely on solid performances and writing to build engagement with the characters and situations. And this film does that. Both Morse and little Jared turn in quite good renditions of their bleak characters, never going into absurd “look how awful our lives are” hyperbole. But it does it too fucking much. At this point, I realize I’m starting to sound like a crank, but it really is like Goldilocks stealing the porridge from those fucking pedobears. Just because some things are too much one way, and you quite rightly realize that a correction is in order, doesn’t mean that you necessarily go a full 100 mph in the exact opposite direction until you hit a wall. It’s okay to go partway. Just the tip. It won’t make you gay, and you never have to tell anyone else about it if you don’t want to.
Anyway, I think Macneill has promise. My criticisms are harsher because I perceive the film to have so much more potential than what was realized. There’s honestly a really good movie lurking in their editing room somewhere, and that’s nothing to sneeze at considering what most young auteur horror directors crank out. This one just doesn’t quite rise to the occasion.
I typically read a lot of other reviews online to try and help focus my own sense of how I view the films I write about, and also to make sure my criticisms aren’t solidly addressed by some aspect that I might have just plain missed. I found one that seems to echo my thoughts entirely, only better written.
Weighing in at 105 minutes, “The Boy” traps itself in a corner by giving its sights, sounds, and story so much room to breathe that the suspense ratchet cannot retain its tightness. The movie has more time than it needs to get where it wants to go, giving excess duration free reign to defuse dread with unfulfilled setups and unnecessary asides.
Preach it. I award this film two Pretty Marines and one Cat out of three possible of the former, and two possible of the latter.