I recently watched “Boys in the Trees” on Netflix, a movie I had honestly skipped over time and time again when looking for something to watch, and I am SO incredibly glad I finally gave it a shot.
First of all, I skipped it over because of how Netflix made it sound. The description of this movie is:
“They once were friends, but now hormones and high school divide them. On Halloween, however, the rules don’t apply.”
They accompany this with a lot of wolf-based imagery and scenes of teens doing hooligan type stuff. I assumed, to be perfectly honest, that I was gonna get a “Lost Boys meets the Howling” kinda deal. I was expecting ruffian teens who are also werewolves to some capacity terrorizing a small Australian town. Maybe some good creatures effects, probably just a bunch of cheap CGI, move along.
What I ended up getting was a gorgeous coming of age story with a horror twist. I got a movie that reminded us to keep to our dreams, that promises matter, especially those we make to ourselves, and to always remember those we left behind as we grew up.
The movie focuses predominantly on Corey, a recent high school grad who runs with a crew that is honestly a lot worse than he is, but who he is obviously striving to impress. In the opening bit of the movie, we’re given plenty of evidence that Corey’s group is less than kind. They roll around doing typical hooligan stuff: skateboarding, beating up a weaker kid whom they call a “fag,” talking about how they have everything they ever want because they have “weed” and “bitches,” all of which is committed by the group’s leader, Jango, who is shown to be Corey’s best friend. When they arrive at Corey’s house, we’re met by Corey’s loving father, and we start to see signs that Corey may be more than just the second-in-command of an incredibly cruel gang of teenagers. First of all, his father is incredibly kind and warm to his son, who returns his paternal affection with broody teenaged malice, constantly looking over his dad’s shoulder for the approval of his gang of ruffians each time he responds. His father seems to have a different view of their relationship, one where they share stuff with each other and go on fishing trips. This suggests that either when not around his friends or perhaps before he found this particular group, Corey was possibly a different person altogether. We even find out t hat Corey is planning on going to school in New York and that he is very eager to escape the life he has. This concept is fleshed out as the movie progresses.
As the shithead brigade rolls out to celebrate Halloween, more rascally behavior kicks in, culminating in TP-ing the house of the kid Jango punched earlier in the film. He then coerces Corey into tossing a dead bird at the kid’s window. The group then retires to a quiet evening of drinking and smoking weed in a cemetery. They meet up with a group of girls and Corey gets into a discussion about the future with Romany, who he shows a particular fancy toward. As they talk he attempts to keep up the facade of his group, repeating things Jango said earlier, only to be called out for putting on an act. Romany challenges him to accept his dreams and to chase them, before the whole interaction is interrupted by Jango who swoops in a makes a douchey pass on Romany (he later apologizes though by saying “hey, any hole’s a goal,” so you know this guy got class). Corey, insulted, leaves the party.
Walking alone to clear his head, he arrives at the skatepark where the kid from earlier, who we find out is named Jonah, is skating alone. Jonah notices Corey and panics, falling to the ground and smacking his head. Corey rushes over to help him, and Jonah convinces Corey to walk him home. This is where the full message of this movie is unraveled, as Corey and Jonah’s long and arduous history is revealed. At this point, the movie shifts entirely and becomes MUCH more than I ever expected.
Without spoiling to much, the night takes Corey on a path of acceptance. He learns what it means to be yourself, how changing for the approval of others isn’t necessary, that cruelty by association is no better than cruelty itself and, arguably most importantly, that dreams are promises we make to ourselves that we need to keep.
This movie is shockingly gorgeous. I went in expecting a cheap, low-budget teen horror flick and ended up with dreamy visuals of childhood memories, nightmarish creatures crawling from walls, and a wonderfully illustrated story of wolves and prey. Camera, make-up and lighting are all used in playful ways to lead the audience to conclusions before the characters, but just barely. The acting is harsh at times, particularly as Jonah weaves very heavy storytelling and magical realism into the mix, but for the most part it feels organic and natural as if teens were trying to approach concepts that were new and particularly complex for them. The lead roles of Corey and Jonah, played by Tobey Wallace and Gulliver McGarth respectively, had wonderful chemistry that was awkward at times, as would be expected from estranged childhood friends. Overall, I was incredibly impressed by the tale this film built and the narrative style it used to tell it.
The message of the film is generally lovely and one that we need to be reminded of from time to time. It’s a beautiful reminder to keep the people in our past in our hearts. As we grow, we may move beyond those we once held dear, either through a trauma or simply growing apart, but we should never forget the joy and love they brought into our lives. In addition, we mustn’t lose ourselves as time goes pay. Our past self may as well be a completely different person in many ways, but it is still a person in our past whose likes, dislikes, choices, dreams and fears helped shape who we have become. Namely, it’s those dreams, which the movie equates to promises, that we have to hold onto. We need to remember that at some point this dream was the most important thing to us, whether it feels that way now or not. Losing those ambitions or giving up is the equivalent to losing ourselves, to losing an old friend.
Boys in the Trees is a beautiful movie about loss in forms that are often overlooked. It shows that friendship is much more complex than it is often portrayed and that coming of age means more than just growing older or more mature. In fact, it’s often holding on to the joys of our youth that give us the courage to be the best version of ourselves.
I CANNOT recommend this movie enough. It is on Netflix right now, go check it out. They categorize it as a Horror movie, since it takes place at Halloween and has some dark themes, but it is not a particularly scary film despite its lean to the supernatural. Watch it when you can and then take a moment to remember some of the best moments from years gone by. Reconnect to your childhood and delight in the memories. Most importantly, follow your dreams.
(Also, this movie has a seriously killer soundtrack)