The Boy (2015)

Longer version of piece published by Sight & Sound as part of coverage of the Cult programme at the London Film Festival 2015

In Craig Macneill’s feature debut The Boy, place is character – and the “Mountain Vista Motel”, a dysfunctional family business that has seen better days and has long since lost its status as a touristic  “destination spot”, comes with its own special Psycho-geography. Located on a lonely highway which travellers “just passing through” – chiefly truckers – tend to leave in their exhaust as fast as possible, this collection of run-down buildings by a junkyard is the loss-making inheritance of divorced, indebted John Henley (David Morse), who is beginning to question the economic feasibility of handing it down to his nine-year-old son Ted (Jared Breeze).

Ted is very much the focus here. Lonely and larcenous, prone to tantrums and increasingly obsessed with dead things, Ted is observed sneaking into guests’ rooms while they sleep and prowling the semi-wild environment that he plots – with calculated determination – to leave. The occasional arrival of (usually unwilling) guests like car crasher William Colby (Rainn Wilson) only fuels Ted’s desire to fly the coop and travel cross-country to his estranged mother in Florida.

Shot wide to capture something of Ted’s disconnection from affect and his all-seeing aloofness from humanity, The Boy is the first in a projected trilogy of films to chronicle Ted’s rites of passage (at the respective ages of 9, 13 and 18) as emerging sociopath and worse. An austere and chilling portrait of America’s abandoned margins, The Boy is a slow-burner that builds and builds to its climactic conflagration, and offers a dark, disturbing flipside to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014).

Anton Bitel