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.
The 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’s 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.
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.
Simply 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.