We’re living in an age where the queer community and the horror community have met at an accessible crossroads, and it’s one of a heck of an awesome place to be at. Monthly, I will be meeting you at this crossroads, and sharing queer aspects of films past and present. Some of these aspects will be blatant, and some will be closeted, but in the end, the queer parts of the things that go bump in the night will be explored in Queer Frights.
Bertrand Mandico’s The Wild Boys (2017) is a fantasy film filled with the horrors of pubescent terror that leads the viewer to an island of secrets and magic. That’s the simple and easy way to describe The Wild Boys. The truthful way to describe the film? It’s a mind bending experience that hides no scenario when it comes to debauchery, sex, gender fluidity, violence, loss, the patriarchy, class, and self discovery. The film should come with a trigger warning for its depiction of sexual violence against women, depictions of underage sex (performed by performers of age), and its attempt at creating sympathy for incredibly horrible protagonists.
Beyond the depravity shown throughout, there is a message that is being relayed. I had to sit long and hard on the film to bring forth that message. Hell, I’m not even sure that I’m even close to what Mandico was trying to get across. But I’ve got a theory, and I’m cool with it.
The story of The Wild Boys begins with the titular group living out their fantasy of sexually ravaging their teacher by tying her to the back of a horse and circle jerking over her. The boys lose control of the horse, and the teacher ends up dead. The group covers up most of what happened with lies and allegations against their teacher, making them to be the victims. Due to the other debauchery that they have committed, they are still sentenced to a sort of behavioral treatment aboard a ship where they will serve as aides to a mysterious captain. On their journey on the open sea, the boys discover more about themselves and their actions than they anticipated.
Female actors portray the boys in the film. Among the five, there is one whose vulnerability stands out more than the others. He acts as the paper weight that keeps us involved with the nasty group. Tanguy (Anaël Snoek) exudes an innocent look with his wide eyes, fair skin, and blonde hair. His appearance is the equivalent of a cherub, and his hesitations to conspire with the rest of the group wields the response to relate to him. Without him, the group of boys would dwell in the field of nasty movie characters.
The boys internally blame the act seen at the beginning of the film as well as all of their other crimes on a supernatural presence that goes by the name of Trevor. They follow this mysterious being shown only as a glittering skull that hovers in their psyche. It is never fully explained as to what Trevor is aside from it being the misogynist force that brings the boys to their baddest potential. Blame today’s society for applying names to certain characteristics, but this – to me – presented the entity of Trevor as a basic white male who thinks that they have power over any situation. You know, the patriarchy. The boys are white. The boys are rich. The boys have no sense of respect for the female body. Trevor is an uber manifestation of this privilege, and they worship it as a deity. (No offense to anyone named Trevor, this is merely an observation. Trevor is a lovely name.)
The captain of the ship (Sam Louwyck) that the boys must serve on is a mysterious character, as well. Aside from being the catalyst of getting the boys to the next mysterious piece of the puzzle of the film’s message, his biggest attribute is his penis. The captain holds his penis in high regard. There’s a point in the film where he is taking a piss, and one of the boys takes a side glance at it. The captain goes into detail that his penis is like a map of his life, and shows that this is a literal cause as a map has been tattooed on his penis. The scene is uncomfortable in its expression of possible pedophilia, but nothing comes out of it aside from the captain telling the boy that if he “… wants something to read, come and see me.” This can be taken in different ways based upon where the story eventually ends, but the initial effect is unsettling.
“[The Wild Boys is] a mind bending experience that hides no scenario when it comes to debauchery, sex, gender fluidity, violence, loss, the patriarchy, class, and self discovery.”
The captain eventually takes the wild boys to an island where he leads them blindfolded deep into the forest. It’s upon this island that the message begins to come across. On this island, the boys continue to eat a strange fruit that resembles a hairy scrotum that the captain has been feeding them on the boat. In addition to the hairy scrotum fruit, they drink from phallic shaped plant life that spurts juice very similar to semen. This juice puts the boys in a translucent state, lowering their inhibitions, and increasing their sexual feelings.
Plant life begins to take a life of its own, and begins to encase the boys. Once encased, their bodies begin to change. What they once took pride in sexually begins to leave their bodies, meaning their penises fall off. They grow breasts. They transition from male to female. They become the very thing that they thought they had power over. Now the power has transitioned, and they are a part of what they viewed as the lower sex.
Turns out that the island has mystical properties that does this. There is a woman, Séverine (Elina Löwensohn), who lives on the island who was once a man, and has spent years understanding the power of the island as well as the power that becoming a woman has given him. The captain himself is a product of this island, but only grew one breast. The fact that he is mid transition from the powers of the island gives a bit more meaning to his earlier interaction with one of the boys. Perhaps he wasn’t being a gross person, but instead, foretelling what was to come for the group of boys. But even given context, the scene is still icky.
As the boys become women, they begin to explore themselves. They begin to explore each other. They feel a power that they didn’t know, before. They also feel a vulnerability that they didn’t know, before. They were sexually attacked by a group of sailors. They felt the helplessness that they’d created in women, yet they were able to come out victorious against these attackers. They feel the havoc that they have wrecked. They begin to understand the pain that they have caused. But the boys – now girls – get to live to see another day. This is due to Séverine’s plan to help modify the behavior of the wild boys of the world so that masculine power would be diminished, and wars and conflict would cease to happen. This is where the message that I received from the film comes into play.
“The trigger warnings that the film creates throughout gives power to the end game of the film.”
The nastiness that the film showed within the boys was needed. The message that a world ruled by women would end horrible things had to make an impact. The trigger warnings that the film creates throughout gives power to the end game of the film. There’s a moment after the boys have become women that one of the boys points a gun to Séverine’s face with a beat of fear and resistance. At this moment, Severine breaks the fourth wall, and quotes Shakespeare’s King Lear; “Men must endure their going hence even as their coming hither. Ripeness is all.” She then shares that the bullets weren’t in the gun after the girl rescinds the threat. This, to me, states that the threat of man will always linger, but it’s the power of a woman that is smart and will overcome.
The Wild Boys is a colorful and divisive piece of art cinema. It has its message, and it sets a statement that melds equality for women as well as the poorly represented. As sick as it may appear in the beginning, the end result is one of empowerment.
You can currently catch The Wild Boys streaming on Shudder. What did you take away from the film? Let us know, respectfully, on our Twitter, reddit, Instagram, and on The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook.