I recently had the pleasure of experiencing the recent Scream Factory release of “The Boy,” in conjunction with Elijah Wood’s Spectrevision label. I have to say that Scream Factory’s releases are as close to a “ sure thing” in horror as you can get these days, and Spectrevision is quickly carving a name for itself as a label for true horror fans. When these two forces combine, it seems like a virtual impossibility for them to fail. With “The Boy,” they did not disappoint. Now this film is not to be confused with the other film of the same name about a possessed doll. This film is far superior, and grounded in terrifying reality. It is a glimpse into the mind of a blossoming serial killer.
The film takes place in the late ’80s at motel on an isolated stretch of desert road, run by a man named John (played wonderfully by David Morse) and his nine-year-old son Ted (up-and-comer Jared Breeze). This motel is in the middle of nowhere and doesn’t appear to attract many visitors aside from stranded motorists. Ted is left to his own devices, which mostly translates to him cleaning up road kill near the motel and changing the sheets of the vacant unused rooms. His efforts are rewarded each time with a shiny quarter, which Ted is saving to make his eventual escape. He has a scrapbook of things he would like to do, and his dad mentions at one point Ted’s attempts to escape with vacating guests. It is clear that the relationship between father and son is strained. We aren’t given much detail into the source of the strain, but being a single father raising a child at a deserted motel is probably a good place to start.
Ted seems morbidly fascinated with his road kill trophies. He examines them, and has a creepy fixation on them. As his quarter collection begins to grow, he gets the bright idea to lure animals into the street with food in order to get bigger game and more money. It is at this juncture that we start to see the wheels turning in that nine-year-old brain of his, and not for the better. He lives in an almost alternate reality desensitized to death, not really understanding it. What starts as an innocent curiosity, hides something more sinister beneath. His plan for bigger animals works out by causing a brutal car accident on the road near the motel. A car driven by a mysterious stranger named William (Rainn Wilson), pummels a deer eating the food in the street. It’s raining and William is injured, so the nearby motel seems perfect. As time goes on, it seems that William is running from something and he is also looking for an escape of sorts. The two form a brief awkward friendship, and it seems that Ted may have finally found someone he can trust.
We know that there is something off with William, and Ted takes an immediate interest in the stranger. Ted becomes obsessed with almost anyone that comes to the motel a la a prepubescent Norman Bates. There are so few visitors that this becomes Ted’s only contact with the outside world. The film’s brilliance lies in its subtlety. We get glimpses of things that we the audience are left to interpret. What begins for Ted as a seemingly innocent curiosity alludes to something much darker within him. I don’t want to give away too much but his treatment towards animals, living and dead, is textbook serial killer behavior. We never know when his instincts will kick in, but it makes for several very uncomfortable scenes.
Basically every interaction Ted has is awkward and met with an equal amount of unease. Whether it’s his encounter with a mean junkyard dog, or a family with a child roughly Ted’s age. To say that the boy is socially awkward in an understatement, and a potentially fatal one for anyone or anything that crosses him. As the film progresses we can see Ted forming an increasingly darker worldview. His dad neglects him, his attempts at friendship are balked at, and he has no outlet for his anger and confusion. Trouble is on the horizon when John makes a deal to rent out the entire motel for a high school prom party. How will this sit with Ted? How will the teens treat the boy? What is Ted truly capable of? These questions leave the viewer with some very scary food for thought as we build towards a tense climax.
The whole film has an underlying vibe of isolation for both the characters and the location itself. It asks several interesting questions of the audience regarding nature vs. nurture. There is also something really unsettling about seeing a young child discover things about himself, and death, that most adults haven’t even had to ask of themselves. For his debut solo feature, director Craig William Macneill does a masterful job with pacing and creating suspense. I can’t wait to see what he brings us in the future. There have been rumors floating around that this is the first installment in a trilogy, showing a budding serial killer come to life. If his formative years are anything like his childhood, we should be in for a very dark journey. I for one can’t wait to see the progress. We may have a new entry in the pantheon silver screen serial murderers. Eat your heart out Michael Myers, there’s a new kid in town.