What makes for a good film? The story? The cast? Big budget? Huge production? Extravagant set designs? Heavy VFX? The answer probably is, we don’t know yet. Some movies with millions of dollars of investment don’t last a weekend in theaters and some with a fraction of their budgets become cult classics. Released recently on Netflix, “The Boy” joins the line of low-budget films that have the potential to be cult classics.
Not to be confused with the 2016 horror movie of the same name, The Boy is an American thriller based on a short film by Craig Macneill and Clay McLeod Chapman, the genesis of which lies in Chapman’s novel called “Miss Corpus”.
The Boy is about nine-year-old Ted (Jared Breeze), who lives with his father John (David Morse), a motel-keeper at some obscure highway in Colorado. The rundown motel is their family business and it is the two of them living in the seemingly deserted highway that sees little traffic. Ted’s mother has long left them and is in Florida and he still harbors the desire to go see her someday. His father John has taken the separation heavily, almost turning into an alcoholic.
With no business as such in the estate, no friends to play with, no family to turn to and an only parent who completely neglects him, young Ted turns to keeping himself entertained by roaming around the area and collecting roadkill. His father pays him for whatever dead animals he collects. As life gets excruciatingly boring for Ted and he has to find new ways of entertaining himself, Ted’s morbid hobby of collecting dead animals turns to hunting them, first out of curiosity and then out of pleasure.
On a fateful night, Ted’s attempt to kill a deer by making it stand on the highway while vehicles speed by causes an accident. The accident brings the mysterious William Colby (Rainn Wilson) to the father and son’s life. Colby decides to stay at the motel to recuperate from the accident but the local sheriff’s office is suspicious about him. Nonetheless, he stays and forms a good friendship with Ted. But not for long.
One can’t probably write about The Boy without giving away a major spoiler, but that’s not the point of the film. Yes, the little boy Ted in The Boy turns into a serial killer. There’s nothing suspenseful about that and the makers don’t intend to hide the fact. It is the process through which he transitions that matters more.
Ted is living a life of neglect. His father has abandoned his duties towards him. He does not go to school. He has no other adults taking care of him. He does not have same-age children to play with. So Ted’s absolute boredom and freedom gives space to unchecked wantonness, which then gets a dangerous edge. The quote “as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport” from Shakespeare’s “King Lear” becomes a description of his life. He starts killing out of boredom, for pleasure.
Most serial-killer movies either glorify the killer or demonize them. The Boy does neither. It just lets the audience get a glimpse of Ted’s life and how he metamorphosizes from an innocent young boy to a ruthless killer, all within his nine years on the planet.
The storytelling is slow and gradual. It takes time to develop Ted’s character. Child actor Breeze has done a commendable job as the troubled Ted, driving the film alone, of course supported adequately by his adult co-actors. The low-budget film banks entirely on its actors and storytelling and successfully so.
Who should watch it?
A potential ‘cult classic’ also means this film might have only a niche audience who will actually enjoy it. The onus lies on you to decide its fate. The film does have an excellent background score and its cinematography captures the vulnerability of lonliness with haunting resemblance to real life. So I still recommend The Boy to anyone who enjoys crime/thriller movies.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Actors: Jared Breeze, Rainn Wilson, David Morse
Director: Craig Macneill
Genre: Crime, thriller
Run time: 1hr 45mins