Compared to the Mountain Vista Motel, the Bates Motel is quite a going concern. Like Norman Bates, Ted Henley also has mommy issues, but his absentee mother ran-off with a truck driver, abandoning him and his shell of a father long ago. That has not helped his moral-ethical development much. However, there is good reason to suspect the nine-year old is naturally inclined towards sociopathic violence. We will watch as his nature and lack of nurture lead to horrific results in Craig William Macneill’s The Boy (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.
The Bates Motel comparison is inescapable, but frankly, everything about Henley screams future serial killer. Even his name evokes memories of Bundy and Hinckley. As the film opens, Henley’s pa pays him a quarter for each roadkill carcass he cleans off the mountain highway skirting round their usually vacant motel. Henley has devised ways to entice more small varmints to their death, hoping to earn enough money for a bus ticket to visit his disinterested mother. Of course, these killer instincts will steadily escalate over time.
William Colby is first outsider to get caught up in Henley’s schemes. He happens to have the misfortune of barreling into a deer grazing on Henley’s highway chum. With his car totaled, Colby will be staying for a while. Decidedly not the former CIA director, this Colby has a mysterious past of his own, which fascinates Henley for all the wrong reasons.
The Boy is a decidedly slow building thriller, but it really does build, with the tension slowly increasing second, by discernable second. This is only Macneill’s second full feature and his first as the sole helmer, but it is remarkably disciplined. He shows the sort of mastery of unitary mood Poe advocated for short story writers. Macneill never indulges in cheap gore just to placate genre fans, but The Boy is absolutely not a tease. When it gets where it is going, it is pretty darned jarring.
Young Jared Breeze is perfectly cast as Henley. A first blush, he looks like an innocent toe-headed scamp but when you peer into his eyes, you see the psychotic hellion. Unfortunately, the film’s midnight genre credentials mean David Morse will probably receive limited recognition for one of his best film performances as the tragically in-denial and self-loathing Mr. Henley. Rainn Wilson also does some career best work as the erratic Colby.