Frightfest First Blood presents Boy #5, book festival tickets here.
One of the many things I admire about the Frightfest Festival is its commitment to new voices, filmmakers, and talent. Over the years, Frightfest has introduced us to a range of films that would have otherwise struggled to gain a festival footprint, and this year is no exception as we welcome Eric Ian Steele’s Boy #5 to Cineworld Leicester Square. Small budget filmmaking always carries several significant challenges, with the resulting picture often dependent on the core ideas that sit at the heart of the narrative. After all, with a budget of less than £10,000, you can rule out grand special effects, big orchestral scores and lavish set design. Instead, your story is utterly reliant on what you have around you and your cast’s performances.
When your cast has full-time jobs and your shooting schedule is reliant on their free time, the challenge of delivering a completed movie in a mere eight to twelve weeks only increases. Therefore, while watching Boy #5, one thing becomes immediately apparent; this is not only a solid directorial debut but one crafted out of love, commitment and a drive for success by all those involved in its production. Here its fresh take on vampire folklore is coupled with broader discussions on social care and support, resulting in an accomplished and unique small-budget horror that pays homage to the gritty urban Hammer productions of the early 1970s, Let the Right One In (2008) and George A Romero’s Martin (1977).
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As night falls across Manchester’s sprawling streets, alleyways and towpaths, a teenage boy (Lennon Leckey) sits quietly in the shadows, blood covering his face. In the silence of the alleyway, the boy lifts his head as a police officer corners him, the carcass of a dog lying by his side. But, who is this strange teenage boy? And where did he come from?
Assuming the boy is homeless, the police officer takes him into custody, where a social worker Majorie (Laura Montgomery Bennett), is assigned his case. Majorie is still coming to terms with the death of a boy in her care and is intrigued by the quiet, elusive boy in her presence. But, when his lust for blood rears its head, Majorie must decide whether the boy is a relic of folklore and legend or a damaged young man with no discernable past.
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Steele surrounds his story with a sense of unease from the opening scene, his beautifully crafted screenplay exploring themes of care, isolation, fear and grief. For Majorie, these themes centre on her recent failure to prevent the death of a boy she deeply cared for, her life and work held within a vacuum of repressed grief. For our young vampire, also known as Nathan, fear and isolation surround his immortality. Here his long periods of hibernation offer his only security before rising to feed; each new world that greets him both confusing and scary. But, things become truly interesting when Majorie’s duty of care dovetails with her sense of grief and Nathan’s isolation as her choices become tangled in ethics.
The success of Steele’s short, delicate and compelling film sits firmly in the hands of its cast. Here the whole weight of the movie sits on their shoulders with the tight budget allowing little room to manoeuvre. It’s here that the film’s two lead actors shine, ensuring Boy #5 holds the attention of its audience. Laura Montgomery Bennett’s Majorie reflects the care, love, and support so many social workers deliver but equally laces this with a deep sense of unease as her moral compass is challenged. But the standout performance of the piece is Lennon Leckey’s Nathan.
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Leckey’s quiet but assured performance is stunning, as he offers us a young vampire wrapped in vulnerability while holding an unspoken power. Each look, reaction and movement are otherworldly in construct. His silent yet intense stare, full of horror, as he eyes his prey and the innocent, gentle boy is replaced by a fierce hunter.
As with all micro-budget films, there are weaknesses in Steele’s production, from occasional pacing problems to a classical score that at times overpowers the drama on-screen. But, let’s face it, the challenges of making a film with so few resources always result in minor problems, and therefore one must consider the journey the film has taken from the imagination to the screen. Here, Boy #5 is to be praised for its ingenuity and bravery with the final film, a powerful example of the creative power and invention low budget filmmaking offers.