There are plen­ty of hor­ror movies and thrillers out there about seri­al killers. However, there are not a lot of dra­mas about seri­al killers — and even less that tack­le the seri­al killer con­cept as a com­ing-of-age tale. The Boy is one of the rare films that takes this path, offer­ing an odd mix­ture of creepy char­ac­ter study and com­ing-of-age dra­ma that chal­lenges the audi­ence with its refusal to cater to them as it makes its way towards an inevitably grim end­ing.

Boy2015-bluThe Boy was adapt­ed from a chap­ter of a big­ger nov­el called Miss Corpus by the book’s author Clay McLeod Chapman in col­lab­o­ra­tion with direc­tor Craig William Macneill. The film’s focus is Ted (Jared Breeze), a young kid grow­ing up in a seclud­ed, fre­quent­ly-emp­ty motel with his depressed, alco­holic father John (David Morse). Ted is pre­co­cious and cute… but he’s also a bud­ding sociopath. A trap he sets for some ani­mals acci­den­tal­ly caus­es a car crash for a drifter named William (Rainn Wilson), who ends up at the motel. The wary inter­ac­tion between the two, cou­pled with his dad’s decline, grad­u­al­ly inspires Ted to take out his frus­tra­tions on the world in a dead­ly way.

On one hand, The Boy is an intrigu­ing alter­na­tive to the usu­al seri­al killer or psy­cho kid film. The script takes a slow-burn approach, start­ing as a char­ac­ter study and gen­tly build­ing up the vio­lent con­flict. Most of the blood­shed occurs off-screen or is han­dled in an oblique way that plays up the psy­cho­log­i­cal ele­ment of the scene rather than the vis­cer­al con­tent. The sto­ry is also more inter­est­ed in chart­ing Ted’Boy2015-02s devel­op­ment from kid with prob­lems to stone-cold sociopath rather than deal­ing in cheap thrills or grue­some mur­der set­pieces.

On the oth­er hand, the film’s refusal to meet the audi­ence halfway at any lev­el means that it will alien­ate a lot of its mem­bers. The artis­tic free­dom that the film­mak­ers had unfor­tu­nate­ly gives way to self-indul­gence: at near­ly two hours, the film’s pace is too slow and laden with a num­ber of atmos­pher­ic moments that could have eas­i­ly been clipped to improve the film’s some­times dis­joint­ed flow. The Boy also stum­bles a bit in its final act when it decides to play up the hor­ror com­po­nent of its premise: a group of clichéd, mean-spirit­ed teens that play an impor­tant role in the finale clash with the tone of what has come before, feel­ing like they wan­dered in from some ‘80s slash­er flick.Boy2015-03

Thus, The Boy has some vis­i­ble flaws that can’t be denied. However, it does have some rewards for the patient view­er. The lead per­for­mances are con­sis­tent­ly excel­lent: Breeze is nice­ly under­stat­ed in a dif­fi­cult role for a young actor, the under­rat­ed Morse brings a sym­pa­thet­ic depth to a famil­iar arche­type and Wilson is excel­lent in a cast-again­st-type role as the moody, secre­tive lon­er who forms a wary friend­ship with Ted. Macneill does a great job of cre­at­ing an arid, iso­lat­ed atmos­phere for the char­ac­ters to work in, with Noah Greenberg’s styl­ish­ly grit­ty pho­tog­ra­phy play­ing a big role real­iz­ing that effect.

Boy2015-01Simply put, The Boy is an exper­i­men­tal redux of famil­iar hor­ror and psy­cho-thriller con­ceits that inter­mit­tent­ly works. The lev­el of inter­est it holds for a view­er will depend on their patience for the kind of will­ful exper­i­men­ta­tion with gen­re expec­ta­tions that it takes on.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory recent­ly released this title on blu-ray. The trans­fer makes the most of the film’s sun-baked visu­als, giv­ing them a nice clar­i­ty while pre­serv­ing the earthy col­or scheme. The 5.1 sur­round stereo mix is loss­less and sub­tle in its exe­cu­tion but deliv­ers a clear blend of ele­ments. Extras con­sist of a trail­er and a 15-min­ute, EPK-style “mak­ing of” piece that has the cast and crew (includ­ing co-pro­duc­er Elijah Wood) explain­ing the film’s off­beat approach to hor­ror and psy­cho-thriller ele­ments.