The Horror Honeys: The Overlook Film Festival - 'Boys in the Trees'

The Overlook Film Festival - 'Boys in the Trees'

An Overlook Film Festival Review with Kat Wells

Boys in the Trees (2017)

“Tis the night—the night 
Of the grave's delight, 
And the warlocks are at their play; 
Ye think that without, 
The wild winds shout, 
But no, it is they—it is they!” 
~ A. Cleveland Coxe

Halloween Night, 1997
Boys in the Trees is a sprawling, confident, painful film. Marrying the spooky wonderment of the “Schoolbus Massacre” segment of Trick ‘r Treat with late nineties nostalgia and the dark fantasy of A Monster Calls, writer/director Nicholas Verso’s debut feature film transcends mere imitation, becoming an emotionally haunting visual masterpiece that is an instant moody Halloween classic.

It’s Halloween 1997, and the last day of the term for Corey (Toby Wallace), a bright but tormented dreamer who is itching to determine his next step after high school. An aspiring photographer with burnout skater friends, Corey is torn between the person he is and the person he wants to become, and hopes to free himself from the doldrums of the Australian suburbs of his youth by heading off to NYU. Corey’s Halloween night takes a turn for the unexpected when he runs into Jonah, a close friend from childhood that he hasn’t done right by in recent years (Corey, though begrudgingly, even played a part in the latest cruel prank on Jonah, spearheaded by the ringleader of the “fag-bashing” skater boys, Jango (Justin Holborow)). Jonah, hurt and angry, invites Corey to make it right by playing one last game together, for old time’s sake: as young boys, they imagined that crossing a particular bridge in the woods would carry them out of the mortal realm, transporting them into a place of wonder and fantasy where all bets of the natural world were off. Corey reluctantly agrees, not wanting to seem like a chicken. Of course, it’s Halloween night, the night when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest, and what follows is a fantastical journey through memory, pain, and the darkest parts of humanity. And not everyone is going to make it out alive.

Toby Wallace at Corey & Gulliver McGrath as Jonah
A quarter of the way into Boys in the Trees, it could be easy to lump it in with the recent rash of nostalgia-bomb offerings that end up putting style before substance. At one point, Corey and his teen skater friends hang in his room, listening to “Lump” by Presidents of the United States of America with a film poster of The Crow on the wall while a naked picture of a girl takes ages to load on the dial-up computer in the background. The needle drops in this movie are enough to send anyone who was alive and going through puberty in 1997 into an emotional tailspin and in need of some 3D Doritos and an ice cold Surge cola to wash them down. Still, the elements that color the film with late-nineties nostalgia, steeping it in that place in time, are just icing on the cake of a story that throbs with the kind of pure pain and regret that are only possible for very young people.

Mischief Night.
Boys in the Trees is richly symbolic, but despite more than a few on-the-nose references (Corey, hanging with a rough crowd he no longer identifies with, is dressed as a wolf for Halloween, to which the girl he likes asks him “What are you supposed to be? A sheep in wolf’s clothing?”), none of it feels contrived or silly. Yes, these are articulate, self-aware teens who occasionally speak actual poetry to one another, but this certainly isn’t the first time an audience has been asked to accept such a thing. It doesn’t hurt that all of the actors deliver solid performances.

The visual splendor of this film cannot be overstated. It is absolutely gorgeous. For an Australian filmmaker, Verso has done an impressive job of capturing the magic of Halloween, the quintessential American holiday. There are kids running through the streets in beautiful, scary costumes, teenagers playing pranks, and maybe even one or two actual ghosts and ghouls... For lovers of all things Trick Night, here lies a treasure trove of mood and imagery, making the film worthy of a slot in your yearly October rotation.

All the Halloween feels.
There are a lot of ideas being explored in Boys in the Trees: the frustration of being a teenager and feeling misunderstood; the loss of innocence; the death of childhood dreams; the horrors of growing into your sexuality amongst the proverbial wolves... but, rather than feeling bogged down by all of this, the film feels more like a really accurate picture of how messy adolescence feels. Don’t expect any big scares; this isn’t that movie. Verso’s direction is delightfully confident, and he’s not afraid to linger, on a song, on a look, on a feeling; you might come back to yourself after a moment realizing you’ve been physically leaning toward the screen. The narrative of the film is incredibly dark, but Verso ultimately insists on a hopeful optimism that teaches us that we can dream, and dream big, no matter how deep the pain that we carry.

Horror TV Honey Rating: 4.8 Jack O'Lanterns out of 5