A stunning coming-of-age horror film.
When the Overlook Film Festival came to a close all the talk centered around It Comes at Night, the latest film from Krisha director Trey Edward Shults. The talk was justified because the film was making its world premiere as the secret screening of the festival’s closing night. It also helps that the film is great — read my review.
As great as that latest effort from Shults is, my best of the fest belongs to director Nicholas Verso and his absolutely wonderful coming of age horror film, Boys in the Trees.
It’s October 31, 1997, and a group of high school kids are getting ready to go out and celebrate their last Halloween before they have some big life choices to make. With high school graduation right around the corner they have to decide what the next chapter of their lives will be.
Corey (Toby Wallace) has the toughest choice to make. He’s one of the cool kids, spending his days skating and his evenings drinking and getting high. Along with Jango (Justin Holborow) he’s the co-leader of his particular clique. He can go to the local community college, continue to do the same things, and maintain his status as a big fish in a small pond. Jango wants and expects Corey to choose this option.
Corey wants something more out of life though. He wants experiences he can only get by leaving the only town he’s ever known. He has a passion for photography that he believes can be his way out and uses it to get accepted to a university in New York City. Jango catches a glimpse of Corey’s acceptance package and gets upset. The two have a bit of tiff before Corey assures Jango that he was just looking into his options.
Once the argument dies down they prepare to get ready to do what they do everyone Halloween — put on some masks to go out and just be typical high school jerks. They drink, they smoke, they throw dead birds and toilet paper on houses, and terrorize smaller kids. One boy they single out is Jonah (Gulliver McGrath), a kid who’s the same age as them but quite a bit smaller which unfortunately makes him a target.
As the night goes on Jango gets extra jerky, in large due to the fact that he’s still upset that Corey would even consider leaving, which ironically only furthers Corey’s wanting to leave. Sick of childish games and ready to grow up, Corey chooses to call it a night and head home. On the way home, he runs into Jonah at the local skatepark. It’s here where we learn that Corey and Jonah used to be best friends that did everything together and they particularly loved Halloween. Once they got to high school the two drifted apart as Corey became associated with the cool crowd.
Jonah feels that Corey owes him one and asks that Corey walks him home. While Corey won’t come out and admit it openly, it’s clear that he feels the same way and agrees to do so. It’s on this walk home that Jonah attempts to remind Corey of the fun they had with hopes of getting the joy of their youth back.
Boys in the Trees takes place over the course of this one single Halloween night but it has a lifetime worth of story. These kids are at that awkward crossroads where they’re still very much little boys but they’re on the verge of becoming young men. The film is about rediscovering and holding onto the joy and innocence of youth while at the same time growing up and expanding outward to truly discover yourself. This is a story about friendship and the complications that come with it.
There are certain elements within the film that pull you into the heart of the 90’s. I know nothing about growing up in Australia, but I do know about growing up in the ’90s. Boys in the Trees taught me that maybe there weren’t that many differences between growing up in ’90s Australia and growing up in ’90s Phoenix. Kids the world over pretty much do the same stuff. Verso does a number of things well to bring the viewer into this period, mainly through the use of music which not only helps to establish the era in which the film takes place but also sets the tone.
An early scene in the film has all of Corey’s friends gathered in his room. They get on the Internet and we can see it’s obviously a very slow dial-up modern at work and they turn on “Lump” by the Presidents of the United States of America. One kid even drums along to the song as it plays. This lets us know from the start that we are definitely in the ’90s. Later in the film, Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People” is used to great effect as the kids are out causing havoc. A lot of other fun throwbacks make their way into the film including Rammstein and Gary Numan. Bush is even used in a way I found to be positive and that’s saying something because I am no fan of Bush.
Boys in the Trees also succeeds visually thanks to the wonderful cinematography of Marden Dean. There are a number of breathtaking shots that are paired perfectly with the music. A scene with the kids on their bikes holding colorful flares is especially awe-inspiring. Verso and Dean make great use of Halloween on the screen, taking advantage of the decorations that come with the holiday to help create the look of the film. And while the movie deals heavily with more real life issues there are a number of fantasy elements that allow Dean to have some more fun with the camera.
I can’t say enough about how much I love Boys in the Trees. It’s a stunning piece of cinema that is uplifting while heartbreaking all at once. It’s something that I would highly encourage people to seek out and see. Boys in the Trees isn’t your traditional horror film in that it’s not super scary — though there are some scares — but it is a beautiful story about the trials and tribulations of growing and it all takes place with a Halloween backdrop.