(The gist: The Boy was the movie everyone was waiting in line for at the Stanley Film Festival. I found that the movie actually lived up to the hype. I enjoyed the excellent performances and characters and the impressive sets.)
By the time we screened The Boy, my viewing partner and I were firmly convinced that, this year, the Stanley Film Festival hated children. There were killer kids in Cooties, horrific child rape in The Treatment, more killer kids in Goodnight Mommy, and a dead child in The Invitation. By the time we reached another psychotic child in The Boy, I was regretting the fact that I had children to think about during all these films.
I would venture to say The Boy was the most highly anticipated screening of the festival. Everyone was going to see it; everyone was talking about it. The lines were long and early. High expectations are always dangerous when it comes to movies. Too much hype, even just within a festival, can derail a perfectly fine film.
Thankfully, The Boy still held up.
The Boy is Ted. He lives at the motel his father owns and runs. Ted's mother left them long ago, and he collects road kill to earn money to purchase a bus ticket to get to her. Ted has a budding fixation with death and difficulty interacting with the guests that stay at the motel. Particularly, the suspected arsonist stranded after Ted baits a deer into the highway and stages an accident and the prom after party Ted's father allows in desperation for money.
True to what we had already experienced at the Stanley Film Festival, The Boy is another slow burn and also has another creepy child. Having read the synopsis, I spent the entire film waiting for what he was going to kill first. Through the building of the plot, it is obvious that his collapse is imminent, but it becomes a question of what will be the first casualty. Then what will be the extent.
For me, the success of The Boy consisted of two elements. First is the characters. Jared Breeze gave such an impressive child performance. The nuances of the character’s childhood just surface so naturally depth of the performance was further cemented by seeing Breeze in person at the following Q&A and festival events. In person, he appeared so happy, well adjusted, and perfectly childlike, which is such a divergence from his more stoic and damaged character. I was proud of him not even knowing him.
The character of the unnamed accident victim and his interactions with the boy are also rather engrossing. Rainn Wilson creates a character who is endearing through his interactions with Ted yet also menacing. I could not trust that he was a grieving widower or an arsonist. That question kept me well invested.
Then the sets are actually just dazzling. We learned in the Q&A following the film that the filmmakers completely constructed the motel in South America, which was a decision well made. The set is almost its own character, telling so much about Ted and his father, personifying parts of their relationship. I caught myself marveling over the motel and the junkyard in the scenes more than once.
For me, The Boy was almost a case study in the emerges of psychopathology in a child. The film is poised to have the audience empathize with Ted so that by the time he ultimately crosses that line, he seems right, justified. I loved the perspective in the situation, growing with Ted in his anger and descent.
When the development and story ultimately culminate, The Boy delivers the anger and violent I had been waiting for. It takes its time to get there, but I really appreciated the ending. I found The Boy able to live up to the festival hype.