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    The Boy (2015): Movie Review

    "A slow-burning yet chilling development of a psycho killer."

    He has gone tired killing animals. Now, he is up to hunting humans. Based on his 2011 short “Henley,” director Craig William Macneill tells us the makings of a serial killer in his feature debut called The Boy.

    The film is set in the desolate mountainous region of American West in the late 1980s. Nine-year-old Ted Henley (Jared Breeze) lives a desolate and tedious life with his father, John (David Morse), in the decrepit Mountain Vista Motel which has been run by his family for generations. John, long-divorced and whiskey-toting, is too depressed to notice the sociopathic behaviors of his son.

    In order to gather 25 cents from his father for each roadkill he cleans, Ted lures critters to the nearby highway to accumulate more corpses. But one night, he baits a full-sized deer resulting to a tremendous collision. A car is crashed and a bearded man, William Colby (Rainn Wilson), suffers a minor head injury. He opts to forgo medical attention and instead stays at the motel. At the same time, a young family also comes by. Unknown to everyone, Ted, using the passkeys, sneaks into their room at night and watches them sleeping.

    William’s presence draws the attention of the local sheriff (Bill Sage). With his wife killed in a fire, William has been running away from the pain. He secretly keeps his wife’s ashes in a box. Eventually, he and Ted become friend but the latter soon becomes curious of his secret. With a crowd of prom partiers coming to the motel, Ted is yet to unleash the monster in him.

    Initial reaction to watching The Boy will be to roll our eyes as it feels like another story of a murderous motel deep in the mountains. It sounds like another Psycho (1960) mini-me. But patient viewing will tell you otherwise. Yes, patience is a must since the film is a slow burner. This is the type which gives more emphasis on mood and psychology over the actual menace. It has a grave tone throughout and is able to sustain such stagnant atmosphere of restlessness even when nothing much is happening.

    The movie has a slim storyline so that little really happens, especially during the first two acts. It starts promisingly with Ted picking up flattened squirrels on the street. There is an outright sense of dread there and the boy, wanting to get out of his wretched life, seems to grow more unease each day. Such characterization is done through physical clues and slow reveals. However, the movie keeps doing the same formula that it loses dramatic momentum. It lacks the necessary pacing to effectively build suspense around the main character. Some shots are also held for too long, with little or nothing is said or done, that they kill the overall dynamics. So when the third act comes, the climactic sequence, which is honestly terrifying and suffocating, does not come as a surprise.

    However, the film remains engaging because the central figure demands attention. It picks one’s curiosity to find out what becomes of Ted, a boy who easily switches between being empathic and savage. His unhinged personality springs from isolation, with few random people coming in and out of his world. He studies them with deadly interest, even disabling the young family’s car so that they stay longer at the motel. This places him into trouble as his nosiness results to him getting beaten up and humiliated by the prom teenagers. In an eerie way, the film manages to solicit sympathy for the boy who then burns his unruly guests.

    Breeze stands out with his impressive hypnotic performance. He brings in different intensity, whether as the lonely child or the troubled beast. Morse is as despondent as he could as Ted’s father. Even during his son’s birthday, he could not even help but disappoint the boy. Wilson, deviating from his usual comic role, is mysterious as William. Becoming a father figure for Ted, he alone realizes the boy’s sociopathic tendencies.

    The film is also artsy with its striking visuals. The landscape aids in bringing in a creeping feeling of menace, especially the gloomy mountainside hotel with a nearby junkyard. Long and wide shots are also beautifully composed. Lastly, the music and scores intensify the dread, particularly Starship’s “Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now” which surprisingly comes out eerie. 

    The Boy is the first of a planned trilogy. Indeed, it feels like an origin story and it is remarkably a fine chilling start. There may be issues about pacing and editing, but Macneill shows promise. As to Ted, may we see him again (with his mother probably) in the sequel.

    Production company: Chiller Films, Spectre Vision
    Cast: Jared Breeze, David Morse, Rainn Wilson, Bill Sage, Mike Vogel, Zuleikha Robinson, Aiden Lovekamp, David Valencia, Amalia Santa Maria
    Director: Craig William Macneill
    Screenwriter: Craig William Macneill, Clay McLeod Chapman
    Producers: David Noah, Josh C. Waller, Elijah Wood
    Director of photography: Noah Greenberg
    Production design: Thomas Hallbauer
    Editor:  Craig William Macneill
    Music: Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann)
    Sound: Leonel Padraza


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