This is the quintessential Halloween film, and it doesn’t even need to be Halloween to enjoy it. I’ve seen 54 films at this year’s Festival, and this is easily one of the best. Take a cup of A Monster Calls, and a helping of Heartstone, and an essence that is entirely its own, and you have Boys in the Trees, directed by Australian Nicholas Verso. There are not many films like it, but it is comparable to Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (without the dour ending) and Guillermo del Tero’s Pan’s Labryinth (with a kind and loving father instead).
Featuring the exploits over one Halloween night of a young Australian adult by the name of Corey (Toby Wallace), who has recently been accepted to study in New York, the film follows him as he meets with his best friend Jango (Justin Holborow) and contemplates wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting ‘burb brimming with children out to experience Halloween joy. Their misadventures inadvertently involve Romany (Mitzi Ruhlmann) and Jonah (Gulliver McGrath). Romany is wise beyond her years and is able to make Corey question his actions in the recent past, especially as he’s fallen in with Jango’s gang who terrorize everyone they come across (including Corey’s father). This questioning, however, evolves to decisive action when Jonah, a victim of drawn out bullying reaches out for companionship and love. Both Ruhlmann and McGrath are stunning to behold, and so is Wallace in terms of how Corey’s character matures over the course of one single night – all three performers could be said to do “character work” on Corey’s character. There’s no false or stereotypical note here in terms of how these characters are drawn – and I’m a high school teacher, I’ve seen a lot.
I simply don’t have enough words to praise this film. Boys in the Trees is at once a story about childhood things and the pain that’s endured when we feel like we’re obliged to leave them behind. However, what do we leave them behind for? I haven’t even addressed the visuals, which do rank up there with the finest of Jackson and Del Toro’s work.
We may grow up all too fast, and leave childish things behind; however, this film is neither childish or naive, but rather a call to action to keep imagination and joy alive.
Accessibility Note: This was meant to be one of the three CaptiView-enabled films at the Festival this year. Venue issues prevented the captions from working so I wasn’t able to enjoy it with an audience. After CBC ran a story about TIFF’s technical difficulties, Mushroom Pictures kindly provided Dork Shelf with a captioned copy to view.
Michael McNeely is a deaf-blind film critic and advocate for greater accessibility in our cinemas. Read more about his story here.