SFF Review: The Boy, and a troubled mind

If a 9-year-old Norman Bates grew up in the 80s living with his father in a failing, isolated motel, he might have been a lot like Craig William Macneill’s The Boy. The film is a slow-burning look at a young, impressionable kid whose growing fascination with death leads him down a horrifying path of destruction. It’s very much a character piece that slowly peels back the layers of this young boy’s trouble mind and the horrifying consequences of a child alone in the world.

The Boy is a very calculated story that’s entirely led by Jared Breeze—who plays the titular character—and he does a phenomenal job here, despite such a tough script that relies heavily on emotion, emptiness and the constant struggle of being surrounded by loneliness. The film is appropriately titled The Boy, and it’s about just that—a boy, and one that happens to be obsessed with death.

He spends most of his days collecting road kill and selling the dead animals to his father in order to scrape together enough cash to buy a bus ticket, a ticket that he hopes will one day reunite him with his mother, who left them a long time ago. It’s such a grim and depressing existence; this lonely little kid who watches his drunk dad struggle to keep a failing motel up and running, and all he wants is to be with his mother again. The kid is so desperate and alone that he latches onto what few guests do show up at the motel in an unhealthy way. The problem is that they get to leave and he doesn’t.

The film spends a lot of time on the element of a kid meandering through a sun-soaked life, befriending a sketchy new guest who crashed his car outside of the motel. The two form a strange, ticking time bomb kind of relationship that spells disaster from the onset. It starts to pick up from there (slightly), crawling towards and all too predictable, but no less horrifying finale. The problem with The Boy, however, is that at times it feels like it’s dragging on and on. And that will happen sometimes when you take a short film (which this was based on) and flesh it out into a feature film.

It’s weird because at the time I saw the movie, when it was all said and done, I didn’t quite know how I felt about it. It’s a very hypnotizing psychological slow-burn that leaves its message behind in a way that sticks with you long after it ends, though, and that’s usually the sign of a movie that got something right. It’s a quiet story, heavily focused on a singular character that’s told in a way that makes you feel both sad for the kid and utterly terrified of him. It’s a promising feature debut from Macneill, too, who knows the value of telling a character-driven story to chilling effect.

3.5/5

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