Boys in the Trees is available to rent, buy or stream.
What is the meaning of Halloween? 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, when darkness replaced the warmth of the summer sun. As we near Halloween 2022, Nicholas Verso’s debut feature from 2016, Boys in the Trees, asks us far deeper questions than your average Halloween night movie. This is a film about the end of adolescence, redemption, friendship and the real horrors of our modern world; our treatment of each other.
Verso’s film has no serial killer, gore, blood, or haunted house; instead, we are offered a Halloween night journey through the streets of Adelaide in 1997. Here the past and the present converge 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. 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? The answers to these questions are complex and rooted in the damaging social constructs of masculinity surrounding teenage boys.
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, 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 gay, queer and weak; he was rejected from any pack and forced into hiding. 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, 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 into the night, it 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.
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Verso 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. 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 is a companion to Verso’s 2014 short film The Last Time I Saw Richard, where he explored teenage mental health, self-harm and sexuality. The result is a haunting story of transformation, endings and new beginnings.