The Stanley Film Festival really had it in for kids this year, man. From the rabid hordes of youngsters in Cooties to the haunting memory of a dead child in The Invitation and even more killer kids awaiting in Goodnight Mommy (which I unfortunately didn’t get to see), the 2015 Stanley made a strong argument for birth control. The Boy was the most profound reason to wrap it up that I saw, as it depicts a kid’s growing fascination with death set against a backdrop of isolation and subversive terror.
This is one of those suckers that even if you don’t realize it at the time, truly gets under the skin and festers. It can feel arduous at times, almost aimless, but by the time the climax kicks in, the deliberate pace and disconnect from backstory fully reveal the terrifying impact of mommy’s little monster.
The Boy is about a (you guessed it) named Ted. He lives in a dusty roadside motel that his alcoholic father manages. Guests are sparse, so Ted spends his free time collecting road kill and selling it to his old man for change. When there is a guest, young Ted has difficulty interacting with them – human interaction isn’t really his bag (I feel you, bro).
The first truly frightening moment happens when it’s revealed that Ted isn’t just collecting road kill, he’s actually baiting animals out on to a sharp curve in the road to be killed. The slow realization that Ted is incredibly more intelligent and sinister than he initially seems is where The Boy draws a lot of its horror. It’s a slow, slow burn that actually delivers on the unsettling suspense and intrigue it accumulates. And the payoff? It’s a disturbingly celebratory sequence where we know we shouldn’t be feeling such a great degree of catharsis flooding over us. It certainly is satisfying, but for (maybe?) morally the wrong reasons.
Yes, after viewing The Boy, your moral compass may be a bit fucked.
Child actor Jared Breeze, besides having a kick ass name, delivers an impressively expressionistic performance. In the Q&A following the screening, he explained that he used two faces: stone and sour. From these two seemingly simple expressions, Breeze simply nails it. There’s a natural depth to the kid that on screen, making you want to stay the hell away from him one second and then high five him the next.
Rainn Wilson (The Office, Cooties) shows a deeply menacing side as a suspected arsonist hiding out at the motel. Him and Ted develop an unusual friendship that drives much of the core plot as the film moves towards its chilling climax. It’s a conclusion that you may see coming, or hell, you may have been anticipating since the first frame. Either way, the dark heart that propels The Boy is the impossibly assured direction of Craig William Macneill and the willingness of the film to take its time letting you know that Ted is fucking dangerous. It’s a frightening thing to witness: Ted’s psychopathy maturing before your eyes.
We’ve seen killer kid films before. But maybe not one as psychologically ratcheting as The Boy. During its 100 minute running time, we literally witness the blossoming of a child’s urge to kill.
And with that, I’m gonna go hug my dog.