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. His Manchester-born vampire movie, receiving its global big-screen premiere. Small budget filmmaking always carries several significant challenges; the resulting picture, often dependant 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 the performances of your cast.
But, when your cast has full-time jobs and your shooting schedule is reliant on the free time they can offer, the challenge of delivering a completed movie in a mere 8 to12 weeks only increases. Therefore, when 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. Its fresh take on vampire folklore, coupled with broader discussions on social care and support. The result, 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).
As night falls across Manchester’s sprawling streets, alleyways and towpaths, a boy (Lennon Leckey) sits alone 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 he is homeless, the police officer takes him into custody, where a social worker will be assigned to his case. Enter Majorie (Laura Montgomery Bennett), a social worker still trying to come to terms with the death of a boy in her care. Initially dismissive of the new case thrown across her desk, Majorie soon becomes intrigued by the quiet, elusive boy in her presence. But, when his lust for blood rears its head, Majorie must decide whether a folklore legend sits before her or just a damaged boy 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. Whereas for our young vampire, also known as Nathan, fear and isolation surround his immortality. His long periods of hibernation, his only security before rising to feed, the new world around him confusing and scary. But, things become truly interesting when Majorie’s duty of care dovetails with her sense of grief and Nathan’s isolation. The result is an ever-decreasing set of choices and decisions that reflect those explored in Let the Right One In.
The success of Steele’s short, delicate and compelling film sits firmly in the hands of the cast. The whole weight of the movie sitting on their shoulders; 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. Here Bennett’s character is wedded to a career that has slowly eaten away at her; the pressures of maintaining hope and belief written across her face as she embraces one final lost boy. And that brings us to what, for me, is the standout performance of the piece, Lennon Leckey’s Nathan.
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Leckey’s quiet but assured performance is nothing short of brilliant, as he brings us a young vampire wrapped in both vulnerability and unspoken power. Each look, reaction and movement, otherworldly in construct. His silent yet intense stare, full of horror, as he suddenly eyes his prey, the innocent and gentle boy replaced by a fierce hunter. In my view, it’s Leckey who ensures the success of Boy #5, and I have no doubt this young actor has a brilliant career ahead of him.
Of course, 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 will always result in several problems. And therefore, when reaching a final analysis within any review, one must always consider the journey a film has taken from the imagination to the screen. And here, Boy #5 is to be praised for its ingenuity, performances and bravery. The final film, a great example of the creative power and invention low budget filmmaking offers us. And I, for one, will be watching Steele, Bennett and Leckey’s future work with interest.