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Review: Boys in the Trees (2017)

Boys in the Trees (2017)

Directed by: Nicholas Verso

Premise: Set in 1997, a pair of teenagers (Toby Wallace and Gulliver McGrath) meet on Halloween night. The two of them roam the city streets while reminiscing about the past and speculating about their future.

What Works: There exists a fair number of films set on Halloween. Most of them are horror pictures predicated on scares and the threat of death. While a few of those movies are great (and some really aren’t), they aren’t really in touch with the roots of Halloween, which is at least partially about the relationship between the corporal and spiritual worlds. Boys in the Trees is unique in that it taps into the supernatural aspect of Halloween but not in a way that is traditionally horrific. This is a spooky film—it has a mysterious atmosphere and an uncanny story—but Boys in the Trees uses Halloween and the supernatural to a unique end. The narrative is fundamentally a “one crazy night in high school” story with Corey, played by Toby Wallace, contemplating the end of his adolescence and the possibilities of his future. The moviemakers use a lot of the familiar elements of this kind of story; Corey breaks away from the bullies he’s been running with and he opens his heart to the woman he’s been too immature to connect with. Those milestones of youth and life are set against Halloween’s celebration of mortality and that juxtaposition strengthens the meaning of both elements. Corey spends most of his Halloween with Jonah, played by Gulliver McGrath. The two of them were close once but have drifted apart and they reconnect while revisiting familiar places in the neighborhood. As their night goes on, the boys’ adventure becomes increasingly fantastic. Boys in the Trees has some extraordinary visuals. The filmmakers use the possibilities of Halloween and what it represents to take the movie to surreal places. The real and the fantastic bleed into one another and the film’s supernatural qualities sneak up on the viewer, finally peaking in a dramatic revelation.

What Doesn’t: Boys in the Trees is pulled in a few different directions. It is primarily about Corey’s relationship with Jonah and resolving the gulf in their friendship. But it’s also about Corey’s connection to Romany, his would-be girlfriend played by Mitzi Ruhlmann, and to Jango, a bully played by Justin Holborow. The film has trouble reconciling these different storylines. At a couple of points Jonah disappears from the story so that Corey can make his move with Romany and the conflict between Corey and Jango is truncated. These subplots work well enough to fulfill the requirements of a coming-of-age story but the filmmakers struggle to integrate them.

DVD extras: Not available on disc but it is available through various streaming services.  

Bottom Line: Boys in the Trees is a unique Halloween film. It is scary in places but this is a different kind of All Hallows Eve tale. It uses elements of the holiday that are often ignored or downplayed and adds a fantastical angle on a familiar coming of age story. 

Episode: #875 (October 31, 2021)