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Film Review – Boys In The Trees

3 min read

This peculiar feature debut from fledgling Australian director Nicholas Verso shows some impressive visual flair but suffers badly in terms of character and story development. Stylistically and tonally it builds on Verso’s creepily effective short film The Last Time I Saw Richard and certainly recaptures some of the idiosyncratic elements which made the short so distinctive. Unfortunately in the longer form, his ideas don’t hold together so well. The plot throws everything but the kitchen sink into a convoluted and disjointed narrative. Love story, supernatural fantasy and coming of age film all rolled into one, it never gels in a coherent manner. Verso’s flick seems to aspire to be an Australian Donnie Darko but a poor script, uninvolving characters and ropy dialogue make this about as convincing as a dodgy Home and Away Halloween special.

Set on October 31st 1997, it focuses on a group of teenagers on their last day of high school. Central character Corey (Toby Wallace) runs with a pack of wild and reckless skaters led by the utterly despicable Jango (Justin Holborow). His estranged childhood friend Jonah (Gulliver McGrath) is a reclusive introvert and the target of the gang’s bullying. Amidst the chaos of the evening Corey and Jonah reconnect and take a walk home together. This turns into a hypnotic and surreal trip into their past where demons lurk in every shadow.

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There’s no doubt that Verso has potent visual sensibility. There’s a dreamy other worldliness to the film which creates an alluring atmosphere. Verso’s influences are drawn from 90’s American pop culture, so many elements of the film (accents excluded) have a stylistically American feel which creates a muddled but appealingly nostalgic sense of time and place. The main problems though stem from the unappealing characters. It’s a shame because in The Last Time I Saw Richard, Verso constructed a compelling dynamic between his two leads which had potential to be developed. The friendship between Corey and Jonah in the feature is comparably slight and unconvincing. Corey is a a rather dull presence with few redeeming features. Jonah meanwhile is a creepy, miserable nerd who speaks in riddles and despite being the target of cruel taunts from his peers is never likeable enough to be endearing. A half baked love story between Corey and pretty Goth girl Romany (Mitzi Rhullman) fails to inject any momentum, while the supernatural component of the film is half baked and not explored in a particularly satisfying manner either. A recurring appearance from a man in white (Trevor Jamieson) may be intended to add a layer of mystery to proceedings but is ineffective and borderline pretentious, especially when he breaks into a sombre rendition of Lightning Crashes by indie rockers Live in one particularly perplexing scene.

Verso is a promising filmmaker and his striking visual technique suggest an interesting voice in Australian cinema is emerging. Unfortunately, the script is crying out for a redraft from a more experienced writer. The film just doesn’t click together very well. For all it’s technical potential, Boys in the Trees is badly flawed, overly indulgent and at times a truly grating experience.