“Like, literally, the worst film I’ve ever seen”. These were the words uttered by someone after the screening of The Boy at the Rich Mix cinema in Shoreditch. Quite why that was the case, I am unsure. Putting the horrendous overusing of the words ‘like’ and ‘literally’ in today’s society to one side, the film was not a bad film by any estimation, and certainly not the worst film ever. Who knows though, maybe they had only seen two films, and that other film was better? Who am I to judge? Regardless, I will judge away. Don’t dampen my mood with your throwaway review.
The thing is, I can see where they are coming from. Certain films do have a particular ‘nothingness’ about them. A dullness, where the mundane nature of life and solitude is portrayed on-screen only for the final act to pull the rug from under you. At which point, you have lost the will to live, which is ironic considering that quite often our main protagonist feels the same way. Take a look at films like The Hunter or To Kill A Man, both strikingly different but both equally dull at times (one more than the other). The Boy had much more to offer than these films, but shared many of the same traits; the realism and constant unnerving sense of impending violence keeps you watching.
Jared Breeze stars as Ted Hankey, a 9-year-old boy who helps out at a run-down motel with his run-down dad played by David Morse. The motel business is failing, the 9-year-old is bored out of his mind, and his only release appears to be wandering around the deserted grounds of the motel scooping up roadkill in exchange for 25 cents in the hope of affording a trip to see his mum. A series of events dotted throughout the film led Ted on a dark and winding path; absorbing everything around him, magnified by the lack of anything to do, the audience gets to see an increasingly disturbed, sociopathic child on the brink of something horrible.
The performance of Jared is particularly special. Convincing, menacing but equally innocent, he elevates the film beyond mediocrity and puts that sense of dread into the audience with just a glance. However, the film cannot just rest on a single performance, and while David Morse and Rainn Wilson are good but not great, they are limited by a simple but effective script. Instead, the score by Volker Bertelmann was imposing, ramping up the dramatic tension when necessary, serving as a catalyst to an otherwise silent situation. A simple scene such as watching someone sleep was transformed into a horrible portrayal of a boy losing his sense of right and wrong.
This is not a film to be watched at home on VOD (although I believe it is out on US iTunes), this is a film to be experienced in the cinema. When very little is happening on-screen at home, there will always be a temptation to check your phone or simply lose interest and switch off. This feature from Writer/Director Craig Macneill is filled with lasting shots of the isolated motel, transferring the feeling of nothingness to the audience. This is a film that requires your full attention, to fully immerse yourself and relate to the boredom, with the end result being an intense scene of horror fully worth the wait.
I can understand why people wouldn’t like this film, but is by no means “Like, literally, the worst film I’ve ever seen”. The payoff may not be gratuitous for some, the script too bland for many and the film too normal for the most part to be considered a thriller and/or horror. I, however, thought it was a brave attempt at the creepy kid genre. Entrancing, eerie, and ultimately bleak, it was like, literally, a pretty good film.