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.

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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.

John Connolly and the Hollywood Film Adaptation

I discovered a new writer this week: John Connolly. I was watching The New Daughter, a supernatural film starring Kevin Costner as a newly divorced father who moves his daughter and son into a big, plantation style house deep in South Carolina. There’s a mysterious mound in the woods and for some reason this affects the daughter’s behavior and Costner’s character must deal with the sinister changes. The move is ok so far (I haven’t finished watching it, so I don’t know how it ends) but what got my attention was the opening credits where I noticed The New Daughter is based on a short story written by John Connolly. I’m always intrigued (and jealous) when a feature film is based on a novel, or even more impressive, a short story.

So, I decided to check out this guy named John Connolly and I came across his excellent website and blog. He certainly likes to read and he definitely loves to write. He’s a Dubliner, with an impressive number of published novels and short stories under his belt. He talks a lot about the writing life. He even mentions which books and how many he’s reading for the month (way more books than I am – jealous again!). So far, he’s inspired me and forced me to take another long, hard look at my reading and writing habits. I am very guilty of procrastinating and very often distracted by the nuances of everyday life – work, home, TV, movies, Internet – while pursing the writing life. It’s never easy to write, no matter how much I love writing and the idea of writing. But I am improving.

Connolly mentions The New Daughter with an article tucked away under the Curiosities section on his blog. The article (originally published in Something Wicked Magazine) offers his musings and opinions on the film adaptation of his short story and Hollywood adaptations in general. It does take him a while to finally get to the point because he has so much to say, but in the process of reading his article I discovered a pretty damn cool writer. He makes several good arguments about film adaptations and offers a dose of reality for new and emerging writers who may be blinded by dreams of making it big when Hollywood comes knocking (raising my hand here). While he admits that, yes, he is lucky to make a living from his writing and has or will have several film adaptations of his work, he still cautions that making a film is an entirely different ballgame and if you’re not prepared for disappointment then it’s probably wise (should you be so lucky to have a story adapted for the screen) to let Hollywood handle it from there and never look back. Yet, some writers are directly involved in the film adaptation and he mentions examples of that as well. He was also lucky enough to visit the set of The New Daughter and briefly meet Kevin Costner, an experience not many us will ever have.

He also poses an interesting question: Why do so many readers want to see their favorite stories headed for the big screen? I can understand this from the perspective of the reader. I love movies. I always have and always will (I have a degree in film). I also love reading books. This blog is devoted to both passions because I couldn’t decide on just one. Film is a kinetic experience and for a lot of people it’s really cool to see the characters and the story you imagined in your own head on the big screen as you share that experience in a crowded theater. It stirs up a lot of excitement too – for the novel or the film or both. I’m already looking forward to seeing Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s best seller, when it’s released in theaters this fall. I’ve been meaning to read the novel ever since it was published and the movie adaptation has renewed my interest. And of course, how many women out there do you know that have read and are very anxiously awaiting the film release of Fifty Shades of Grey?

Sometimes Hollywood gets it right, sometimes it doesn’t. And Connolly is certainly right about one thing – film is a very different narrative than a novel. It’s treated and handled differently by a team of people versus just one person who usually has full control and a vision of how a story is shaped. He suspects that short stories might make for better adaptations because there is more room to expand on a short story. It can even be viewed as a “pitch” for the film version, whereas a novel is already established with a beginning, middle and end and requires the surgical trimmings of a screenwriter or director to fit the parameters of the big screen. I’ve read many popular novels and seen the film adaptations that followed. And I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of them. Lately, though, I’ve reversed this process by going to see the film version first and then reading the novel later (I plan to do this with Gone Girl) and usually the novel wins by a long shot. There’s just so much in a novel that cannot be translated to the screen and by reading the novel after I’ve seen the film, I understand and appreciate more deeply what’s happening in the story that gets missed in the translation. This is part of what Connolly is trying to say and I agree with him a hundred percent here. But I still love movies and I still enjoy seeing the movie adaptation. I suppose as the reader or viewer, you’re free to enjoy or hate whatever medium the story is presented. As the writer, and where I sympathize with Connolly, there’s a personal connection to the story and seeing the original vision changed or altered by Hollywood can be affecting on a personal level. So, I do heed his warnings and I take his advice very seriously. Perhaps I’ll even understand it better one day if I’m ever lucky to have the choice of allowing Hollywood to adapt one of my stories for the screen.

For now, though, I plan to finish watching The New Daughter, then I’ll read Connolly’s original short story and check out more works by this cool writer.

From Russia with Love

In the spirit of the Olympic games in Sochi, here are some classic and favorite Russian films (or films about Russia) based on novels you might want to check out.

The Return (Vladmimir Garin, Ivan DobronravovKonstantin Lavronenko, 2003)

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This little known Russian gem centers around two brothers who deal with the mysterious arrival of their father, whom they only knew from a photograph. They don’t know where he’s been or why’s he come back. And a single tragic moment alters their lives forever. This one is not based on a novel, but it’s worth mentioning.

The Russia House (Michelle Pfeifer, Sean Connery, MGM, 1990)

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Based on the novel by John Le Carre, Sean Connery stars as Barley Blair, a publisher who is recruited by British Intelligence to help authenticate the details of a manuscript smuggled from out of Moscow. The manuscript itself supposedly proves that the Soviet defense system does not work. So, Blair is sent to Moscow to find its author, Katya, played by the always beautiful, Michelle Pfeifer. The two find themselves in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game.

The Hunt for Red October (Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Paramount Pictures, 1990)

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No one can forget this edge-of-your-seat thriller. Based on Tom Clancy’s debut novel, the world was  introduced to his hero, Jack Ryan, originally played by Alec Baldwin. Ryan is a CIA Analyst  who leads the hunt for the rogue Russian submarine, Red October, headed by its brilliant captain, Marko Ramius (Connery). This is one helluva movie!

Solyaris (Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, 1972)

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The original film adaption from director, Andrei Tarkovsky, is arguably the better version to Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 update. Both films are based on the 1961 novel from Russian novelist, Stanislaw Lem. The story follows Kris Kelvin, a psychologist who is sent to investigate the circumstances surrounding the crew aboard a research station that is orbiting a strange planet. Tarkovsky is a master filmmaker and the psychological film is long remembered after its final shot.

Doctor Zhivago (Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, MGM, 1965)

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Winner of five Academy Awards, the film was based on Boris Pasternak’s novel, a complex love story of a physician during the height of the Russian Revolution. It remains a classic and still one of the highest grossing films of all time. You will fall in love with this one.