The Boy: An Unnerving Tale of a Fledgling Sociopath

"The Boy" 2015

“The Boy” 2015

 

There’s some rare, new talent in the horror/thriller genre. While reading Entertainment Weekly’s recent post about the creepiest kids in films, I grew curious about the mention of little Ted Henley in The Boy, a film I had not yet heard about. It’s a low budget film, directed and co-written by Craig William Macneil, and was just released last week in select theaters and on demand.

The Boy marks what is potentially the beginning of a planned trilogy that follows a young boy named Ted Henley (played by Jareed Breeze, holding his own in a commanding performance) as he progresses from age nine to thirteen to seventeen on his journey of self-discovery with his sociopathic tendencies. In The Boy, Ted is at the tender age of nine and is only dimly aware of his burdgeoning interests. They begin to emerge in part because he is lonely and as a child his mind’s imagination is open to so many possibilities. While his father, John (David Morse in a saddened, richly layered performance), tries to keep a failing roadside motel open, Ted is left to his own devices, roaming freely among the motel grounds and beyond, catching roadkill to earn a quarter, tracking his earnings in a ledger as if he runs the motel and watching and waiting. Waiting for what becomes clearer throughout the film as events unfold around him.

John, however, has basically checked out in the wake of his wife leaving him for one of the motel customers, giving you a sense of how bad the marriage must have been. We are told very little else regarding Ted’s mother other than she now lives in Florida and I suspect her story is purposefully left out to be dealt with in a later film. In the meantime, acutely aware of each other but uncertain of the dynamics of their relationship, Ted and John tiptoe around one another, one ready to give up while the other is eager to explore.

The arrival of traveler William Colby (Rainn Wilson), who might harbor a secret regarding the death of his wife, sets in motion a shift in their lives as Ted’s attachment to Colby provides him a fatherly figure he seems to crave, thereby making John jealous due to his own lack of attention towards Ted. He does realize in some way he no longer has any strength or emotion left to give him. Ted befriends, or tries to befriend, the other (and too few) customers who do stay at the motel. Yet his father continuously warns him to leave the customers alone pushing Ted further away because he simply can’t accept this concept – partly because he seeks human connection, but also because simmering underneath the surface is his innate desire to harm. As Ted’s true nature is revealed the tension builds until Ted finally unleashes his lethal desires in the film’s incendiary ending and we are left face to face with a young monster.

The Boy is a slow film, but it’s not a film to be ignored. Crafted with a perfect blend of excellent filmmaking and storytelling, it introduces us to the world of an emerging sociopath and a unique horror film. Through its entirety Ted waits, watches, learns and enacts when he’s finally ready as we become an unwilling witness  to his gradual transformation . But even by the end of the film, we are left craving more, filled with unanswered questions and wondering what happens next. We can only hope those answers come soon in the next two films.

It’s a stunning film, unnerving and altogether beautiful, lensed with long shots and wide landscaped backgrounds that highlight the lonesome nature of Ted’s world. It’s also filled with dedicated actors who add dimensions to their characters and the narrative of the film as a whole. There is a lack of gratuitous violence, which is much appreciated as the filmmakers choose to focus wholly on Ted’s self discovery, relying on human drama and tension as the driving forces of the film. The Boy certainly has the right elements to make it a classic in the likes of Psycho, Carrie or even The Shining.

As mentioned earlier, The Boy introduced me to new talents who I’m especially excited about. The film itself is a feature length expansion of Craig William Macneil’s orignal short Henley, also based on a chapter in the novel Miss Corpus, written by Clay Mcleod Chapman, who co-wrote the script for the film. I ordered a copy of Miss Corpus and I’m anxiously awaiting its arrival so I can delve deeper into Ted’s tale and treat myself to Chapman’s energy and storytelling power. I’m also anxiously awaiting what hopefully will be the next two films in the potential Ted Henley trilogy.

Ba Ba Dook Dook Dook!

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The Babadook (Causeway Films, Smoking Gun Productions 2013)

Who knew a child’s book could be so terrifying?

No, The Babadook is not a real children’s book – although the Babadook Campaign launched the production of a physical copy of the book available for purchase. Thankfully, though, the original book exists solely in writer-director Jennifer Kent’s electrifying horror film – a chilling tale of a mother’s struggle to protect her son and rid her home from an evil entity. William Friedkin, director of the horror classic, The Exorcist, even said he had never seen anything more terrifying.

Essie Davis is Amelia, a single mother who tragically lost her husband in a car crash while they were both on the way to the hospital to give birth to their son. Due to the tragedy, Amelia and her son Samuel (played by the very convincing Noah Wiseman) do not celebrate his actual birthday. It is simply too much for Amelia to bear –  the remembrance of Samuel’s birth coupled with her husband’s death. Samuel is already a rather strange child, awkward and anti-social, and this worsens with his continuing persistence of the monster hiding under his bed. Amelia dismisses this as a normal child’s overactive imagination (didn’t we all fear the monster under the bed?) but this soon gets Samuel into trouble at school and begins to test Amelia’s patience.

Her only solution is to remove Samuel from school temporarily and the anxiety of their situation coupled with the monster tormenting Samuel takes its toll on them both. The late nights and bouts of insomnia weighs heavily on them and they begin to suffer the mental and physical dangers from lack of sleep. As Samuel’s fear increases so does Amelia’s desperation while she teeters on the edge of losing her sanity altogether.

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Then one night, during a tender mother and son moment before bed, Samuel retrieves a strange book from the shelf in his bedroom. It is the book of The Babadook and as Amelia reads it, she is alarmed at the sinister message contained within and in turn alarms and terrifies Samuel. The book sets in motion the emergence of the Babadook and no matter what Amelia tries to rid their home of the sinister presence, it only gains strength forcing Amelia to take desperate measures.

The Babadook really is terrifying. Surprisingly, there’s little to none in the way of the overindulgence of blood and violence that seeps into so many horror films today. Instead, The Babadook harks back to the classic horror films, relying on the use of spooky shadows and creepy sounds, portrayed through one of the more original horror tales in recent memory, propelling its principal characters (and you) into a dreamlike, nightmarish world.

But the real horror here, above all else, is the madness, frustration and eventual slip into depression we witness the helpless Amelia fall into as she tries to help her son without really knowing how to help him. Because of it, she is further alienated from the very few friends she does have and she and Samuel find themselves desperately alone, trapped together in a house with a possibly imagined or a very real supernatural presence.

The Babadook won’t be a film for everyone; it’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of repression and where answers and solutions are not quite so clear, nor is everything black and white. But if you do desire an eerie, psychological film that boasts compelling performances with a story that elevates it beyond the standard horror films of late, then proceed with caution and beware of Mr. Babadook.

A Haunting Coming of Age Tale

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Canada by Richard Ford

“First I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.”

I had the privilege of hearing a lecture from Richard Ford sometime in the fall of 2014. He was a guest of the NC Literary Festival hosted at North Carolina State University. The NC Literary Festival occurs each year and is shared between three major universities in the Triangle region: Duke University in Durham, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Ford is a distinguished looking man in his seventies with an impressive writing resume behind him. His graying hair and pale blue eyes betray his warmth and intelligence and on that particular day he wore pink socks (which I complimented him on). In his lecture, he spoke of his childhood and life growing up in Mississippi with his parents and the influences of his writing. As he spoke, he came across to the audience as endearing and funny and you really felt as if you could listen to him speak for hours.

But Ford’s career (and life) is not in lecturing. It is in writing. And it is in his writing that we can celebrate his insightful wisdom and linguistic creativity and treasure him as a rare and gifted writer still working today. Copies of his novels were, of course, available for sale after his lecture and, while never having read anything by Ford, I purchased a copy of Canada. It was his newest novel at the time and one that was on my reading list for a while. Once I began to read the novel I knew then that I was in the hands of an observant, subtle and masterful writer.

Canada is the tale of fifteen year old Dell Parsons, our protagonist in a story hinged on the long and complex history of American crime and violence. Set in the 1960’s in Great Falls, Montana, Dell’s parents, out of financial desperation (and some kind of haphazard attempt to redeem themselves) make the fateful decision to rob a bank. When their plan ultimately fails and they are taken in by the authorities, Dell and his sister, Berner, suddenly find themselves abandoned and alone. Then Berner takes off for California while Dell is smuggled across the border into Canada by a close friend of his mother.

It is there in Canada that Dell is left in the care of the enigmatic Arthur Remlinger, a man who desperately tries to hide a dark and violent past. While adjusting to the strange people around him and his lukewarm living arrangements, Dell wonders at his uncertain future and explores what it means to call someplace “home.” But as Dell struggles to come to terms with the impact of his parent’s mistake and imprisonment, the mysterious Remlinger hurtles them both towards a disastrous collision with the law and murder.

Canada is a richly layered novel that illustrates Ford’s skillful and natural gift of observation with a lyrical prose infrequently matched by other writers today. Ford’s mastery of language is what commands your attention. While his writing here is deliberately slow and measured (and it seems as if Ford could have written this story without end) he deftly probes the effects of the crime on Dell and how it shapes his view of the world while touching on themes of adolescence, violence and self-discovery. Canada is a startling coming-of-age tale that’s a must read, especially during the bitter cold winter months. It is at once dark, funny, observant and altogether wonderful. A haunting, beautifully written piece of literature.

found.

found.

by Todd Rigney

 

This is a little gem of a horror book.

With the beautifully simple and chilling opening line, “My brother keeps a human head in his closet,” you’re hooked from the start. At a lean 127 pages, Rigney’s story follows Marty, a shy fifth grader who does well in school and has only one real friend. But things begin to change after a bullying incident at school and Marty finds himself alone and alienated. His parents don’t really understand how to help him. His mother allows him to stay home for a few days following the incident, but that doesn’t really seem to help Marty’s lingering problem at school or with his classmates. When his one friend finally agrees to a sleepover, Marty does everything he can to please his friend, who seems disinterested in Marty’s horror movie fascination. There’s a sadness in knowing that the bullying incident has created a rift in even the one friendship Marty has. And as if all of this is not enough, Marty is burdened with a particularly dark secret that hovers his family – his older brother, Steve, happens to be a serial killer (as revealed in the opening line).

Written with straightforward and simple prose, Rigney wrote the novella in about two weeks and self-published it. He handles and addresses rather sensitive and mature themes, especially regarding Steve’s motivation to kill. These themes and issues are similar to issues that Rigney mentions in interviews that he dealt with while growing up in Kentucky. Some fans have questioned if the story goes too far with some of the themes, but we should be mindful that this is still a horror story and there is often a greater flexibility and forgiveness handed to a horror writer. It’s certainly not for everyone, but horror story fans will appreciate Rigney’s approach. He builds the suspense nicely and gives us an honest and human narrator in Marty. The story falters only slightly when Marty’s father suddenly resorts to mild violence which sets off a major showdown later. Yes, the ending is graphic and disturbing and you know even from the beginning of the story that things probably won’t end well. But what happens in the end almost seems too abrupt in the brief time we’ve shared with Marty and his dysfunctional family. In retrospect, it probably works in the context of the story but might have been embraced more if fine tuned and expanded on a little bit.

Rigney also leaves a huge desire to explore more with Steve and his killing nature. The suspense is strongest in the moments when Steve appears. The way he stands silently at the bedroom door and watches Marty or when he comes home in the middle of the day and Marty hears him downstairs, then his footsteps coming up the stairs and disappearing into his bedroom. There’s a terrific sense of foreboding each time and you hold your breath wondering what has Steve done or what will he do. Perhaps Rigney is clever in leaving out the gory details of Steve’s kills, letting the horror of the unknown fester in your imagination. It’s creepy to experience all of this from Marty’s point of view, his terror in knowing that a serial killer lives and breathes in the same house. Through all of it, you root for Marty and you hope nothing happens to him. You feel for him, sensing his longing to share a normal relationship with his older brother, while understanding his maturity in the realization this will never happen. We certainly have Rigney to thank for giving us something new and exciting in the horror genre.

The buzz surrounding the film, which has been circulating the independent horror film festivals worldwide, has garnered quite a bit of attention for both Rigney and director, Scott Schirmer, who co-wrote the script together. The film is available on iTunes and will be released on DVD in late September. Fans and critics are giving the film excellent reviews and the word is that it’s equally, if not more terrifying, thrilling and shocking than its inspiration. Do yourself a favor, though. Read Rigney’s novella. If you’re brave, read it late one night, with only one light on, and let yourself be terrified.