I went into The Boy not really knowing much about it. I saw the title on iTunes and remembered seeing a trailer for it awhile back, and recalled really digging the creepy, ominous atmosphere it had created in two minutes, and it had always been on my radar since then. I think going into it this way really added to the overall sense of dread I felt while watching it. Not knowing where the film is going — trying to figure out what’s going to happen before it does — makes for a much more tense viewing.
The Boy centers mainly around a father and his son running a floundering, decrepit motel smack in the middle of a rural, mountainous landscape. Naturally, the hyper-inquisitive boy is bored of his surroundings and fascinated with the rare guest that might happen to stop for the night. But there’s something else to the boy, something off. Something growing beneath the surface. As the film progresses, you start to think perhaps this is more than just a precocious youth we’re watching. I won’t give away much more, because again, the less you know the better. (One thing I found incredibly, incredibly strange about the production end of this movie: according to the credits, Floyd Mayweather Jr. — yes, the boxer — is a co-executive producer. Weird, right?)
There are two things that really sell the movie. First, the location, including the rundown motel. As I watched, I kept trying to figure out where they could’ve possibly found such a ratty, unkempt motel in the middle of nowhere like that. Georgia? Tennessee? After doing a little research I discovered (to my utter surprise) that the motel was actually built for the movie in the mountains of Medellín, Colombia! For those unaware, this was where Pablo Escobar ran his drug cartel, and was once the most violent city in the world. It’s a surprising little factoid to say the least, but the set design and locations are flawless. The whole area looks and feels like sad, destitute Appalachia.
The other thing that makes this movie work so well is the cast. It’s a small cast, consisting primarily of three characters. When you don’t have a lot of actors to distract and fill up scenery, you better make sure the actors you do cast can carry the film, and the actors here do a stand-out job.
The defeated father is played by the perpetually sad-faced David Morse, and I can’t think of a better actor for the role. The way he just sighs and slouches from scene to scene really sells the utter hopelessness of their situation. Then there’s the mysterious traveler played by Rainn Wilson. He, too, is a smart casting choice. He’s able to play warm and friendly just as well as straight-faced and untrustworthy. And last but not least, there is Jared Breeze who plays the title role. He is easily the best part of the movie. This is his movie. Kid actors are a tough sell, especially if they play a main part in the movie. They can’t all be Danielle Harris and Tye Sheridan. More often than not, you’re gonna get the Jaden Smith and Chandler Riggs pedigree, or that kid from Jurassic Park who compares Velociraptors to turkeys. They act like they’re acting, but rarely do they convey a believable performance. (This is no dig on child actors; when I was a kid I was barely able to make myself lunch.) If you’re able to snag a believable kid for your movie, consider yourself lucky.
The reason Breeze is so amazing (as ‘Ted’) is that he doesn’t even act like the camera is there. I understand that’s the first rule of acting (unless you’re in a John Landis movie), but he’s so damn natural that watching the film makes you feel like you’re spying on some mountain child. As he wanders along the highway, explores the nooks and crannies of the wilderness, and talks to himself while imagining he’s miles way, you forget you’re watching a kid acting. So keep up the awesome work, Jared.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the score. It’s sparse, plunking, jangling, and jarring — and it’s perfect in the movie. At times it reminded me of the scores from The Shining and There Will Be Blood. In a way, this film is kind of like a hillbilly version of The Shining, only instead of Jack Torrance being the antagonist, it’s little Danny Torrance.
The Boy is far scarier, more chilling, and more realistic than any other dangerous kid movies that come to mind. And according to director Craig William Macneill, it’s only the first part of a planned trilogy. So it looks like we’ll be able to spend more time with Ted to see where life takes him.