Boys in the Trees is an Aussie film that tries to break the mould of a straight-up drama with elements of fantasy and horror, but ends up being a hit-and-mostly-miss bag of results in what could have ultimately been a good film.
The phrase sometimes less is more gets thrown around a lot and can very well apply when it comes to a screenplay. In the case of Boys in the Trees it feels like writer and director Nicholas Verso (in his debut) had too many ideas and crammed them all into one film, which is unfortunate because it’s his own screenplay that brings down what is a very well shot and visually appealing experience.
Set in 1997 on Halloween, we are introduced to Corey (Toby Wallace) and his skateboarding gang, led by stock-standard bully Jango (Justin Holborow). It’s their last day of school before exams with nothing on their minds but booze and girls, and what’s a celebration without Jango knocking down a defenceless Jonah (Gulliver McGrath), who accidently crosses his path. As the story unfolds it turns out Corey and Jonah know each other a little more than everyone else thinks and that’s where the film becomes highly erratic and ultimately confusing.
In the spirit of Halloween they play a childhood game that takes them into their own imagination, where people reveal themselves as though they were characters in a fantasy – bad guys are werewolves, ghosts etc. At least that’s one possible viewer perception. It’s really hard to tell most of the time. It seems like Verso is trying to channel the likes of David Lynch, Nicolas Winding Refn and other left-of-centre filmmakers and roll it all into one. It may just be down to a lack of experience because Verso does show some talent. Hopefully he gets another chance to prove himself with perhaps a more condensed story.
At a run time of just under two hours, most scenes drag on far too long, especially dialogue between characters – in particular the Halloween stories Jonah tells Corey that seem to add dead weight to an already flooded storyline. It’s also visibly taxing on the actors themselves who seem to struggle with some of the convoluted dialogue and wonky storytelling. It’s a shame too because underneath all the dead wood there is a good little story that unfolds, which includes Corey’s love interest Romany (Mitzi Ruhlmann), who wishes a better life for them both outside of the small town they are growing up in.
By the film’s end you kind of wish it played out in a more simplistic fashion considering what happens to the two leads, but you also have to give the movie some sort of credit for trying to do something different and playing outside the sandbox.
This is director Nicholas Verso’s first feature film.