SpectreWatch | ‘The Boy’ and Our Fear of Isolation
SpectreWatch is where writer Justin Drabek discusses SpectreVision’s horror filmography, the impact it has had on him, and the cultural relevance of the company’s commitment to making outsider art for the screen. Each film carries a unique tone, and yet, as SpectreVision continues to produce more films, there seems to be a common thread that carries throughout the work they choose to release.
Craig Mcneill’s The Boy, the sixth film released by SpectreVision, is an outlier for the company in many ways. On the surface, it doesn’t look like it fits into the genre-bending that the company had done up until its release and the subsequent films that followed. The story is about a man (David Morse) and his son (Jared Breeze) who run an oft-unvisited motel in the middle of nowhere Colorado. This is also a journey of regret and misfortune but one that explores a serial killer’s past without over-telling what could lead someone down a path of no return.
Films like this are extremely tense and claustrophobic. As it meanders, it breathes in certain darkness. Every scene in the film creates a haunting picture of what lies ahead for Ted, a nine-year-old who is already consumed by death. I dreaded writing about The Boy for SpectreWatch because it is a gut-wrenching film. After many false starts, I started sending unsent emails to my editor about skipping this. It dawned on me that I might not be able to write about this film, not because it was bad or because I didn’t want to write about it, but because I was just having trouble finding my way as if I were Jack Torrance in The Shining repeating the same sentence over and over. After a discussion with my partner where she said “write about that then” when I discussed my struggles with watching this film, my pen went to paper to write about the film and my struggle with it. Once I started down this path, it became clear exactly what I wanted to write about. It’s amazing how ideas can be brought to life in the smallest of conversations.
Despite my attention being drawn to SpectreVision and genre filmmaking in general, The Boy slipped through the cracks for me around the time of its release, but I was reminded of the film when Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah, and Josh Waller were guests on Shudder’s short-lived The Core, a great and underrated show for genre fans. On the show, the producers showed various clips from their films. Included in those was a disturbing scene from The Boy (one that will stick with you long after it is over) where the father tries to appease his son with cake during his birthday, and all the effort to bring joy is diminished in seconds as the boy wants nothing to do but cause havoc, a theme throughout the film. This short clip sets the stage for who Ted is becoming, a harrowing gut punch for anyone watching it.
Afterward, I tracked down the film and finally watched it. The film itself didn’t leave much for me at the time, perhaps owing to being secluded in my Portland apartment; I didn’t want to think too much about a film in which a boy detached from society begins to unravel and destroy others. So, I quickly put it aside and wasn’t going to think about it again, that is until SpectreWatch. Eventually, it dawned on me that I’m going to have to write about this film, and I am so glad I did. While it will never be my favorite in the long list of great films the company has made, it serves a purpose.
Isolation is a scary thing. You’ll find some of the greatest horrors of this world in this film and, unfortunately, the real horrors emerging from it as well. Ted aimlessly walks around by himself outside in the middle of nowhere while his only interaction is with his father and the very few guests who stay at his father’s motel. His father is so concerned with making ends meet, that he doesn’t notice his son slowly descending into madness.
Much of the film follows Ted around as he sneaks into places he shouldn’t, lures creatures to their death, and slashes the tires of guests staying at the motel to trap them. The film doesn’t shy away from the message that sometimes isolation can be dangerous, and while my time in lockdown didn’t end with me causing as much chaos as Ted, I did go insane, making false narratives that directly affected people, something Ted often does in the film.
In the film, Ted lies to his father and to the guests, which ultimately affects everyone else. I felt terrible about my own actions in isolation, even though I made amends and accepted that for a short time I was crazy. But I made no excuses for my behavior. Writing this article about the film brought those things up again in a cathartic way. Now, there is no comparison between the actions of Ted and my own weird time during a global pandemic, but there is still something that I think I inherently drew upon while watching — and more importantly, thinking — about this film. I think it’s important for films like this to exist because so often they may not be overtly scary but do get under the skin, almost as much as isolation can and does. I think we’ve all struggled with it, and perhaps some of us still do and that is ok. While there are a million things that I can’t relate to in this film, there are some things that I can — we all can to an extent. Even though I don’t believe that 99% of people will become the person Ted does by the end of the film, I know we can be at our worst when left to our own devices.
In SpectreVision’s films, bleak storytelling and characters descending into madness have a purpose and meaning. The Boy is a prime example: it’s dark and very challenging to watch, yet also rewarding. As with any good horror film, it also serves as a cautionary tale of sorts, one that shines a light on darkness while allowing you to view it from your home or theater chair safely. The Boy is the kind of film that sinks into you if you let it. You may not like what you see but when you do, you have the choice to grow from this, unlike Ted. Your path forward is not marked by an inescapable past. 🩸
Justin Drabek is a contributing writer for Manor Vellum. He also writes for Horror Obsessive and formerly for Killer Horror Critic. He loves cats, and dogs seem to like him…he’s not so sure about them. Follow him on Twitter @Justin_Drabek.
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