We gave it a C+
In the summer of 1989, nine-year-old Ted Henley (Jared Breeze) lives with almost zero parental supervision at his father’s decaying motel in the mountains. There, he spends his days pretending to welcome guests to the empty motel or scraping roadkill off the highway, which his father (David Morse) rewards with small change. When Ted starts to lure larger prey onto the road with crumbs and trash, it’s our first clue that something’s not quite right with this miniature Norman Bates.
In the total desolation of the mountains, Ted’s budding fascination with death grows unchecked, and as a few unlucky travelers are forced to stop at the motel — including a drifter (Rainn Wilson), who strikes up an uneasy friendship with Ted — the boy starts to further push the boundaries of his sociopathy.
The film’s biggest flaw is that there’s never any doubt about where Ted is going to end up. The Boy is the first installment in a planned trilogy, a warped coming-of-age tale about a fledgling sociopath, and the question isn’t if Ted is going to snap — it’s when. As a result, the film feels overly long, and while lingering shots of the mountain scenery do help convey the isolation of the deserted motel, too many of them feel repetitive.
As the titular boy, Breeze manages to evoke both sympathy and horror with almost no dialogue, and his performance walks the line between victim and villain. A haunting score by German composer Hauschka also adds dread to otherwise innocuous moments. But otherwise, the film focuses too much on atmosphere and stage-setting, and the horrifying climax isn’t enough to redeem a plot in which very little actually happens. C+