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SXSW Film Review: ‘The Boy’

A 9-year-old sociopath stubbornly fails to become scary in this stillborn thriller.

David Morse, Jared Breeze, Rainn Wilson, Bill Sage, Mike Vogel, Zuleikha Robinson, Aiden Lovekamp, David Valencia, Sam Morse.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2443822/

Though the body count is ultimately higher than in “Psycho,” seldom has a stay at a homicidal rural motel seemed quite so endless and dull as in “The Boy.” The titular figure is a 9-year-old whose budding sociopathy (or whatever it is) stubbornly refuses to become vivid, let alone scary, in Craig William Macneill’s inert, ersatz thriller. Soporific as a genre exercise, and lacking the kind of psychological depth or anything else that might lend it substance as a drama, the pic faces weak commercial prospects.

Life is isolated and tedious for Ted Henley (Jared Breeze), stuck in the desert at the remote Mountain Vista Motel his family has run for generations. But now it’s just him and his dad, John (David Morse), a well-meaning but depressed figure. Mom is long gone, and business is slow to the point of nonexistence. Ted’s only excitement comes from collecting the 25 cents he gets for removing roadkill from the little-traveled nearby highway; Dad presumably doesn’t realize that junior has actually been baiting animals in order to have more corpses to gather.

When Ted graduates to luring a full-sized deer into the middle of the road, the resulting collision produces a customer: Mr. Colby (Rainn Wilson), whose car is totaled, and who sustains a minor head injury. His presence draws the interest of the local sheriff (Bill Sage); it also provokes the curiosity of an unrepentant Ted, who discovers the reluctant “guest” is secreting something precious in a box.

For the time being, the gruff, mysterious Colby isn’t going anywhere. But when a young family stops for the night, Ted ensures they stay a little longer by casually disabling their car. He also has an weird penchant for entering guests’ rooms with his passkey at night to stare at them while they’re sleeping. But so little happens in “The Boy,” and so little suspense is effectively built around its central figure, that by the time things finally do heat up the movie has flatlined too completely for us to care. This, despite a fiery finale nicely captured in Noah Greenberg’s distinctive widescreen photography.

Indeed, practically the only thing creating any tension here is an impressively atmospheric score by Hauschka (aka Volker Bertelmann) — without it, “The Boy” would become a watching-paint-dry experience even sooner than it already does. Expanding upon their 2011 short, “Henley,” Macneill and co-scenarist Clay McLeod Chapman fail to provide enough insight or incident to sustain the length of a feature (trimming 15 minutes or so would at least get the pacing off life support). The formidable adult performers are fine but given little to work with, while neither script nor helming gives Breeze the help he needs to seem a malevolent force rather than an understandably bored child.

Ostensibly set in the American West of the late 1980s, the pic was actually shot in Colombia. Tech and design contributions are solid.

SXSW Film Review: 'The Boy'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (competing), March 14, 2015. Running time: 112 MIN.

Production: A Chiller Films presentation of a SpectreVision production. Produced by Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Elijah Wood, Douglas T. Brown. Executive producers, Rainn Wilson, David Morse, Noah Greenerg, Brian Arnott, Andres Calderon, Patrick McErlean, Shane O'Brien, Justin Smith, Thomas Vitale. Co-producers, Sharon Lopez, Matt Ruskin.

Crew: Directed by Craig William Macneill. Screenplay, MacNeill, Clay McLeod Chapman. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Noah Greenberg; editor, Macneill; music, Hauschka; music supervisor, Brent Kidwell; production designer, Thomas Hallbauer; costume designer, Tatiana Vera; art director, Patricia Arango; set decorator, Carolina Escobar; sound, Leonel Padraza; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Jeffery Alan Jones; assistant director, Luna Alvarez; casting, Taige Jensen.

With: David Morse, Jared Breeze, Rainn Wilson, Bill Sage, Mike Vogel, Zuleikha Robinson, Aiden Lovekamp, David Valencia, Sam Morse.

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