There is a category of fiction out there called “horror adjacent,” mostly applied to movies that might feature supernatural horror elements but whose storyline itself isn’t actually horror. Some of these could fall in with ‘horror-comedy;’ others with fantasy, and another set, like Australia’s Boys in the Trees, defy easy classification.
Boys in the Trees (2016)
Director & Writer: Nicholas Verso
Notable Cast: Toby Wallace, Gulliver McGrath, Mitzi Ruhlmann, Justin Holborow
Plot: It’s Halloween 1997 – the last night of high school for Corey, Jango and their skater gang. But for Corey, his past has some unfinished business. When he encounters Jonah, a former childhood friend but now victimized by Jango’s cruel streak, Corey takes pity on him and agrees to walk him home for old time’s sake. What starts off as a normal walk through empty suburban streets descends into something darker and magical as they tell each other ghost stories, drawing upon their fears of the world around them. As they walk through their memories and ghosts of the past, Corey is surprised to discover how much he still has in common with his abandoned friend. But on the night of the grave’s delight, even the most buried truths will find a way of coming to life. (Source: imdb.com and teaser-trailer.com)
Commentary: I’ll cop to ugly crying by the end of the film. Boys in the Trees is a nakedly tender, heartbreaking story that uses both the language and the mythology of Halloween (and even, in one spectacular scene, Dia de los Muertos, complete with a mariachi band.)
The dead do come back. Vicious monsters are constantly on the attack, sometimes with the ubiquitous masks of the holiday, and these are very much real. Fantasy monsters threaten Corey and Jonah. All of this is realized in a beautiful, dreamlike and compellingly eerie way.
The story doesn’t skip a beat when Corey and Jonah reconnect with each other and revisit their old childhood friendship. Corey has plans for his graduation, and absolutely has no desire to be stuck in the dead end where he sees his skate punk friends headed. Jonah, however, seems stuck in the past and present. As the plot synopsis above states, Jonah is bullied, and he is gay.
All of this may piss off everyone perusing the horror section of the streaming platform and expecting some hard terror. Those who may have gotten past that might complain about length and pacing. I myself can’t advocate for any less of the story that we were presented.
What We’re Afraid Of: Oh boy. As I said, this movie made me ugly cry, and it brought together many things. Despair, when you’re young, vulnerable and emotions are 100% raw and unfiltered. The feeling of being stuck, of it never getting better. The wolves that never stop hounding you. The lamb that you are. The wolf you become to stop being a lamb. The heartbreak and subsequent numbing of old friendships torn apart so you can survive in a harsh pit of your peers. The sorrow and guilt of losing that friend or loved one, of missing out on the person they are and will become.
I’m going to point you to the podcast Screamqueenz: Where Horror Gets Gay. The formidable and very funny Patrick Walsh can put into words how much meaning this movie has. Patrick is also a tireless advocate of New Alternatives, a nonprofit that helps homeless LGBTQ teenagers. He does a podathon nearly every Halloween season to raise funds. Don’t wait; donate to them right now, here, any time of the year.
Chillerpop takes your questions and comments here on this blog, on his Facebook page, and on Twitter (@ChillerPop).
If you have a burning desire to add Boys in the Trees to your video library, or to support this blog by browsing and shopping via these links, please consider clicking the image below: