Boys in the Trees (2016)

Boys in the Trees is available to rent, buy or stream.

What is the meaning of Halloween? It’s a simple question, but the answer is complex. Over the years, the roots of Halloween have morphed into the trick-or-treat, pumpkin-carving candy-fest we have all come to know. But this ancient celebration was rooted in transition and change, the end of summer and the beginning of winter, a time when darkness replaced the warmth of the summer sun. As we draw this year’s Halloween countdown to a close, our final film is Nicholas Verso’s debut feature from 2016, Boys in the Trees – a movie about the end of adolescence, redemption, friendship and the real horror of our modern world; our treatment of each other.

In Verso’s film, there is no serial killer, no gore, blood, or haunted house. Instead, we are offered a Halloween night journey through the streets of Adelaide in 1997. Here the past and present merge for a young skateboarder and aspiring photographer, Corey (Toby Wallace) and his skater mates led by Jango (Justin Holborow). Jango has already picked their Halloween night victim, Jonah (Gulliver McGrath). Jonah was once Corey’s childhood best friend but now faces daily onslaughts of homophobia, physical abuse and ridicule.

Corey (Toby Wallace) and Jonah (Gulliver McGrath)


Corey does nothing to stop the abuse of Jonah, fearing he may lose his mates. But as he crosses paths with Jonah on his way home from a party at the local cemetery, his weakness and guilt in not standing by his friend finally find release as both boys spend one final night in each other’s company before the sun rises and everything changes.

At its heart, Verso’s Halloween night gem is an exquisite exploration of adolescent masculinity, friendships and peer groups. Here Verso asks us why the close and loving friendships many boys hold with other boys as children fragment during adolescence. Is this due to a fear of being labelled as gay if they are close to another boy? Or do teenage boys seek to prove their strength by ridding themselves of any potential weakness, placing a wall around their emotions in the process? The answers to these questions are complex and rooted in the damaging social constructs of masculinity that surround us. But the result leads many teenage boys to reject the deep and loving friendships of their childhood in favour of more informal connections based on specific interests or activities.


Many boys search for a pack that can protect them during their teens, accepting the pack rules, and never questioning the Alpha male who leads them. For many teenage boys, the very idea of being a lone wolf is petrifying. Corey found his pack in his early teens, shedding his childhood self instantly, including his once close and loving friendship with Jonah. Meanwhile, Jonah was labelled as gay, queer and weak; he was rejected from any pack and forced to go it alone. All LGBTQ+ people will relate to this, whether they joined a pack to help hide who they were or lived in fear of being hunted by the groups that formed in and outside the school grounds.

The concept of the pack sits at the heart of Boys in the Trees, as Verso cleverly uses the wolf to explore Jonah’s experiences of bullying and his alienation and abuse. Meanwhile, as Corey slowly separates from the pack he once called home, his Halloween wolf costume is discarded piece by piece. But as we walk further into the night, it soon becomes clear that the events at play are so much more than a reunification of two childhood friends. Here Verso plays with our sense of reality and time as he embraces a Charles Dicken’s and M.R James-inspired story of love, loss, reconciliation and redemption that transcends expectations in its beauty, power and raw emotion.


Verso clearly takes inspiration from Greg Araki and Gus Van Sant in building his vivid and haunting tale of teenage life. Here mid-nineties tunes surround the journey we take alongside Corey, Jonah and Jango’s gang. Verso uses the songs of Spiderbait, Bush and Garbage to shape each scene and the adolescent energy and emotion attached. At the same time, Marden Dean’s cinematography takes us from vivid colours to the deepest darkest blacks as Corey walks alongside Jonah, shedding his teenage skin and embracing the new man within.

In many ways, Boys in the Trees acts is a companion piece to Verso’s 2014 short film The Last Time I Saw Richard, where he explored teenage mental health, self-harm and sexuality. Here Verso builds upon the style of his short, playing with genre boundaries as he explores the real horror and beauty of our world. Us. Boys in the Trees may not be your standard jump scare Halloween night movie, but trust me when I say it’s a film that deserves so much more praise than it received on its release. It’s a haunting story of transformation, endings and new beginnings, and in my book, that makes it a Halloween night treasure.

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