Every year on Halloween, many people wear masks. To scare people, to feel powerful, to become something else. However, people we also wear emotional masks, for the same reasons, when it’s not Halloween. We wear these masks, especially when we’re younger becuase we have no idea of who were are. Boys in the Trees is a film that explores these themes of identity, following a boy who becomes a man over the course of a magical Halloween night, where he must face past traumas and figure out who he truly is. The film performs a near-perfect balancing act, serving as both a coming-of-age film and a modern Halloween classic.
Set in 1997 Australia, the film follows Corey (Toby Wallace of The Society), a skater boy who yearns to say “see you later” to his boys. As senior year draws to a close, he begins to rethink spending his nights drinking and terrorizing the neighborhood with his pack. Corey has dreams of going to college in New York, which means leaving his friends behind. After a small fight with best friend Jango (Justin Holborow), Corey assures the pack he isn’t changing and they set out for one more Halloween of debauchery. But plans shift when Corey is forced to confront his past while walking former friend/current bullying victim Jonah home while playing their favorite childhood game.
Sometimes you want to be scared to death by a Halloween movie, but sometimes you want to be reminded of that Hallowed feeling you had as a kid. Boys in the Trees isn’t your traditional horror movie. It’s not that scary at all really but there is a dark magical feeling, like a Halloween fairy tale. This comes from the presentation, but also Corey and Jonah journey through the night. The film becomes more and more surreal, blurring lines of what is and isn’t real. It instantly takes you back to the times when you and your best mate fended off imaginary monsters in the shadows.
Our protagonist Corey is terrified of the future and wants to run from his past, stuck in time as he has become content on his current life even though he knows it’s not the life he wants. Boys in the Trees uses the metaphor of masks quite literally with Corey donning a werewolf mask (perception of who he thinks he is) and his loser-pal leader Jango wearing a killer clown mask (reflecting his inability to take life seriously). Their night includes TP-ing houses and getting high in the cemetery, making this film is the pinnacle of an angsty Halloween movie. But of course, there’s so much more to this film than its Halloween aesthetic.
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Boys in the Trees is about growing up, but specifically the effects toxic masculinity has on boys becoming men. Corey and his boys often bully the school runt Jonah, and though Coreygoes along with it, he shows remorse. Not just because it’s wrong, but because they used to be quite close as kids. Jonah is physically small and socially isolated, the lamb to Corey’s wolfpack. This relationship is the crux of the film: Corey is stuck in the present, and isn’t going to be able to move forward with his dreams until he comes to terms with the skeletons of his past.
This becomes quite literal as Corey and Jonah play one more round of their spooky childhood game, telling suburban legends from around their neighborhood. Only this time it’s not a game, as the film dives further into Halloween mythology reminding us the veil between the living and dead is thinner on that night. Corey believes walking Jonah home and playing will absolve him of his bullying guilt, however, it turns out to be a much more revealing journey as we piece together information about Corey and Jonah’s past friendship and what tragically drove them apart, to begin with. So much about the film seems straight-forward, but Boys in the Trees is packed with so much symbolism your first and fifth watch will be completely different.
Refusing to spoil this wonderful film, the third act of Boys in the Trees is absolutely heartbreaking. The journey you’ve been on becomes extremely clear and you feel as if you’ve changed yourself. In the end, Corey learns that there’s more to life than Jango’s philosophy of “weed to smoke, bitches to f**k, f*gs to bash”. He also learns that the difference between men and boys: Empathy. Being a man means taking accountability for his actions and being there for the ones who truly need it, not just the ones loyal to you. By the end of the film, Corey is stomping his wolf mask into the ground shedding his initial perception of himself.
Boys in the Trees is an honest and harrowing Halloween tale, taking you through the highs and lows of growing up in a very unique way. The film entices you with its sleek, music video-esque presentation and promise of spooky shenanigans. But the layered storytelling and emotional journey you go on is what will keep you coming back to this film every year. First time writer/director Nicholas Verso brings an empathy to his writing that cuts to the core of Halloween’s “Face Your Fear” philosophy. It’s also just a wonderfully spooky and warm film, with a nostalgic aesthetic you’ll love revisiting. Plus, it includes a killer 90s soundtrack with artists like Marilyn Manson and Rammstein! If you haven’t seen this gem, highly suggest adding it to your October watch-list before the month is out.
Have you already made Boys in The Trees a Halloween staple in household? How do you face your fears this time of year? Let us know on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!