You can find Boys in the Trees in the horror section of Netflix in the US and UK, but don’t be tricked into believing that Nicholas Verso’s film will strictly abide by the rules of the genre. In fact, it rarely does. Rather than setting his sights on scaring the audience, Verso has crafted a film that aims to move them, with the added bonus of a few well-placed frights. This is the horror genre’s answer to A Christmas Carol, and it’s the perfect film for Halloween night.
Operating as a coming-of-age fantasy with elements of horror, Boys in the Trees takes place on Halloween in 1997. The film centers around Corey (Toby Wallace), a college-bound student who desperately wants to leave his dead-end Australian town, but is conversely content to run around with his trouble-causing mates, none of whom seem to understand the type of person Corey actually is, or the conflicting thoughts he’s having about his past and future.
Corey takes a photograph of the alienated Jonah (Gulliver McGrath) fresh off being bullied by his friends, and his group makes copies of the photo to spread around town throughout the night. Dealing with his conflicted mentality, Corey bails on his friends and notices Jonah skateboarding. Jonah falls and bloodies his head upon seeing Corey, and the two begin a conversation that appears to have been established long ago. Though he’s reluctant to do so, Jonah convinces Corey to accompany him home in the case that he’s suffering from a concussion after his fall- beginning a journey of self-discovery that will forever alter the lives of the boys in the trees.
Honestly, I was blown away by every frame of this movie. Nicholas Verso crafts several moments of haunting beauty through the spooky visual aesthetic, which, when coupled with the unexpected weight of the story and the powerful performances, makes for a deeply affecting, unforgettable film. I was initially hooked by the 90’s rock soundtrack and a familiarity in the lead character, though I couldn’t quite place where it was that I knew the kid from. As the story progressed though, that answer became all too clear: He was reminding me of myself.
To an extent, Corey will be relatable to everyone who watches Boys in the Trees. We’ve all been at that crossroads between youth and adulthood, and each of us has dark moments in our past that we wish we’d have handled differently. Through Corey, director Verso acknowledges the torn nature of a boy on the cusp of being a man, and the end result moved me to tears.
The film, though, isn’t content to showcase the viewpoint of any specific character, instead highlighting the mentality and growth of several different people in the film- most notably Jango, Corey’s best friend and the resident bully. Verso’s script allows us to understand the mentality of the character, and the performance by Justin Holborow transcends a character who could have been deemed a villain into a flawed young man who quietly longs for his better self to be present. He can be a bastard, but the culmination of his story arc is emotionally fulfilling.
In regard to the performances, though, Boys in the Trees belongs to Toby Wallace, Gulliver McGrath, and Mitzi Ruhlmann. Viewers will find pieces of their younger selves in the performance of Wallace as Corey, and the actor impressively owns the role as if he were portraying himself.
McGrath, too, is terrific in the role of the (slightly) weird and misunderstood Jonah, whose heartbreaking past comes to light throughout the progression of the film. The character is reminiscent of the ghosts in A Christmas Carol, in that he walks Corey through stories and scenarios that allow him to grow as a person by the time Halloween night is finished.
Though the two previously mentioned actors are at the forefront of Boys in the Trees, Mitzi Ruhlmann’s character, Romany, is every bit as influential in the growth of Corey as Jonah is. Romany is the only person in Corey’s life that seems to understand who he really is and aspires to be, and she represents an optimistic, hopeful future. Ruhlmann shines as the light of the movie in the type of performance that’ll make you want to be your best possible self.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Verso’s film, however, is that the lesson at hand is not to forget your dark past and embrace a brighter tomorrow, but rather to apply that darkness to your construction, betterment, and growth as a human. Walking blindly into this film and expecting straightforward horror fare, I was absolutely surprised by the stunning amount of heart, and Verso’s understanding of life, love and death through the eyes of teenagers with lives both ahead of and behind them. Boys in the Trees is horror with a soul, and I loved every second of it.