MARCH 16, 2016
Now that it's finally finished, for the foreseeable future the highest compliment I can bestow on a movie is "I wish I could have put it in my book". Since it took a little longer to write than planned ("little longer" = over a year past my original idea of a release), I often wished I hadn't set a cutoff date for applicable entries (March 31st, 2013 - the last day of daily watching/reviewing), as it kept me from including gems like The Canal and Lords of Salem in the chapters where they would be perfect matches. And now here we are again with The Boy, one of the best evil child movies I've seen in years and almost the very definition of the kind of movie I wanted to highlight in the book: under the radar gems that were maybe imperfect but ultimately DIFFERENT enough for that not to matter.
And it doesn't help that it shares a title with the film that is, for now, the year's most successful horror movie. Normally when two movies share a title, one's bad and the other is good (Alone in the Dark - Uwe Boll's being the bad one, obviously), and/or they're spread far enough apart that it's fine, but THIS Boy is hitting Blu-ray only a few weeks after the other one hit theaters, so even saying "the new one!" doesn't help. I will probably using "the creepy doll" or "NOT the one with the creepy doll" to differentiate (actor names are useless for some people, so "The one with David Morse" might not be enough). I don't do top 10 lists anymore (thank Christ), but if I did I wouldn't be surprised if both Boys ended up on it, and for some reason that annoys me. Like I'd almost rather one of them sucked and was forgotten than have to keep explaining which one I'm talking about if I was using general terms (i.e. "The Boy has a great score!"), because I would obviously like to talk about both.
One key difference is that the other Boy had a twist that changed the sub-genre on us, but that's not the case here. If anything, I wish it DID, because the cover gives away the ending (spoilers ahead for those who haven't seen the cover yet! If you plan to VOD, don't read any further!), showing the kid standing in front of the burning motel where the entire movie takes place. I guess we can hold out hope he just sets a fire with no one inside (the place is empty throughout most of the film, after all), but around the film's halfway point his father (Morse) mentions that a bunch of kids coming from prom will be staying there that weekend, and when they show up they're a bunch of jerks, so it's zero surprise that they're goners - seeing the nice girl survive a Friday the 13th movie is more of a shock. I mean, I guess it's nice that they don't puss out like in The Good Son*, but I can't help but wonder if they would have been just as successful going with a subtle image, enticing as many buyers/renters but without showing us a still from its climax.
Then again, promising mass destruction (and presumed mass death along with it) might help, as the film is a whopping 110 minutes. As I'm a sucker for this kind of material (and uncharacteristically having trouble falling asleep the night I watched it - I figured I'd only see about half and finish it in the morning, but I watched it all AND the making of featurette!), I didn't mind the length too much; there were a couple of things that probably could have been cut or at least trimmed, but the slow, methodical pace is one of the things that I liked about it. Director Craig William MacNeill (who also edited, and co-wrote with Clay McLeod Chapman) favors long takes and slow zooms, giving it a very '70s feel that I very much enjoyed (the score also screamed 1970s, specifically Texas Chain Saw Massacre), and if the movie was whittled down to 88 minutes it wouldn't have that same luring effect. Still, when someone can watch nearly three episodes of something on Netflix in the time it takes to watch the film, I would be shocked if I didn't read a lot of "too long!" and "I shut it off before anything happened, how did it end?" type posts.
So what fills up that time, if he's not going on a killing spree in the first five minutes? Mostly, a lot of scenes that perfectly illustrate the kid's sad and lonely existence. There are long stretches that don't even really have dialogue as he wanders around the motel grounds, finding little things to do, watching the roads for signs of life, etc. The motel that he works at with his father is more desolate and under-populated than Norman Bates', and he wants nothing more than to go to Florida to be with his mom, who ran away with one of their few guests some time before. His dad isn't much of one (we learn he was raised the same way, which explains why he doesn't know any better) and the very occasional guests can't really count as friends since they come and go. When he disables a family's car to force them to stay another day, it's the rare moment in a killer kid movie that works as an act of the sinister things to come, and as a rather heartbreaking moment, as he's doing it so he can spend more time with their same-aged son.
But that's nothing on the film's most wrenching moment, when Ted is beaten up by the prom kids after one of them catches him sneaking into their room and trying to murder a passed-out girl (the jerk teen assumes he was copping a feel). He's left on the ground outside, and starts crawling his way to the office, screaming for his dad - it's the only time in the movie (I think) that he actively asks for his father's help, as despite the fact that he's obviously a budding serial killer he's also still a little boy who needs his dad. But Morse is drunk and takes the opportunity to scream at him for bothering the guests, which is pretty much the straw breaking the camel's back as far as Ted's humanity goes - you get the idea that if Morse had just comforted him and acted like a father, maybe he could start readjusting into a normal kid (or he'd recognize that his son needed help and get him some before it was too late). As a dad, this scene devastated me, and again - it was so unique to see the "Oh shit now everyone's gonna die!" moment in one of these things also act as one that was truly sad; I legitimately felt terrible for the kid even though I knew he was about to immolate a bunch of other people's children.
The 3rd main character in the movie is Rainn Wilson as a mysterious widower, carrying a box of his wife's ashes and the possible guilt of being the one who killed her in the first place. His character is meant to act as a sort of surrogate father to the kid, but it falls a bit flat since we never really know his intentions. There's a local cop played by Bill Sage (from the great We Are What We Are remake) who is suspicious of him, and some really clunky dialogue to set up Wilson as a potential arsonist (which Ted never hears, so how he's able to use that to pin the fire on Wilson later is beyond me)... it was necessary to give Ted a way out at the end, and their scenes together are good in and of themselves, but it felt like it was missing something. I don't want to get too cynical and suggest they had to work in a role for another name so that they could sell the movie, but that's honestly what it felt like. His attachment issues were made clear by the other guests (and like them, Wilson has to stick around until his car is repaired of the damages Ted caused), so they were slightly redundant as well as underdeveloped. Not a crippling flaw, but when the storyline concludes I couldn't help but wonder if I had missed something.
Though if I did, I wasn't missing as much as the people who watched the movie when it showed on Chiller, as it was cut down to around 90 minutes to fit a two hour block with commercials. The IMDb boards have explained some of what was missed (including one of the scenes I alluded to being something I could cut), but the ones they mention don't add up to twenty minutes, so if I had to guess they either trimmed those great long takes throughout, or worse, sped the movie up (I've seen them do it on other movies, running a film at something like 120% speed, just enough to make it run a little faster but not make everyone sound like a chipmunk). That sort of presentation, along with the commercials breaking up the atmosphere (it was shot in Colombia, but they fake the lonely southwest very well) must have made for a very unsatisfying viewing, so thank Christ I missed it when it aired and saw it properly. Obviously if I knew there was a killer kid movie featuring David Morse (one of my all-time favorite character actors) on a channel with a pretty good track record for their originals, I would have sat down and watched the premiere, but it went completely off my radar until Scream Factory announced it was coming to their lineup.
But like their other Chiller releases, it's got the logo but it's not a full blown traditional SF release - the only extra is a rather shoddy making of piece (nope, not even the trailer - which is surprisingly true to the film's tone!), where none of the actors are mic'd and some of it looks like it was shot with a cell phone. Worse, Wilson pulls that obnoxious "it's not a horror movie, it's a psychological thriller" bullshit on us, so you can feel free to skip the whole thing, or at least fast forward to the end, where the producers explain that they have two sequels mapped out (!) and hope to be making them soon. As of this writing they don't seem to be doing that, but I guess the plan is to show Ted at different stages of adolescence, so maybe they enjoyed Jared Breeze's performance enough to wait until he ages a bit so they don't have to recast? I'd be down with that. Horror Boyhood!
What say you?
*An easy film to compare it to, since not only is David Morse in it (does he not age? How can he STILL look like a guy who could be the dad to a 9 year old?), but it's produced by Elijah Wood. I like to think they were making it up to us killer kid fans for that copout movie.