Movie Reviews: Boarding School (2018)

It’s the first week of September and that means that October is less than a month away.  With October comes horror season and while I prepare for and dread all those write ups, it’s time to get a head start with a horror movie which tried to sneak under the radar with a tiny release and few reviews.  It’s so under the radar that Wikipedia hasn’t even given it a page yet which is quite the achievement for a film seeing a theatrical release.

It even comes from an established director in Boaz Yakin who got his start with Fresh and Remember the Titans.  Since then, his career has been all over the place from a Brittany Murphy comedy to a to Freudian Nazi thriller to a Jason Statham action movie to a dog centered family war movie, and his written work is even more varied.  In fact, the only thing his work has shared in common since then has been its dismissal by critics.  He’s largely avoided horror though aside from being co-credited for the story of the lackluster From Dusk till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money and being an executive producer on the tedious first two Hostel films.

Set in 1990s New York City, Luke Prael (fresh off Eighth Grade as the object of Elsie’s crush) plays Jacob, a 12-year-old boy who is having trouble sleeping at night.  Forced to sleep in the dark by his overbearing if loving mother and kindly if awkward stepfather, he instead winds up waking in terror screaming and driving his mom crazy.  After an apparition appears to him, his grandmother is revealed to have died.  At the funeral, he is approached by a crazed acquaintance of her who rambles about how he has eyes like her and about how weird she was.  The Hereditary vibes are apparent and equally poorly integrated to the plot here.

It takes a while for the titular boarding school to show up, but when it does the students are all revealed to be a special school for troubled individuals.  If you thought the film was a mess of an ideas before, it only adds to them when they get there.  The film unsubtly accentuates Jacob’s femininity (the fact that Prael resembles a younger Ezra Miller certainly helps) throughout, dressing him in women’s clothes and featuring a female character (Sterling Jerins of The Conjuring films) constantly emphasizing how pretty he is.  The school itself serves a mysterious purpose beyond just treating troubled individuals as it brings out the severe corporal punishment and all the talk of driving out the evil with Jesus plus numerous unsubtle hints something is off about the endeavor.

That’s not even getting into the Nazi regressive memory dreams.  It’s a weird damn movie that introduces countless threads which despite all having a point, still feel unnecessary and overloaded.  The treatment of the physically and mentally disabled characters is mean spirited both by the script and others in it, but almost admirably so in its dedication to having its characters (even protagonists) be non-PC jerks.  Less credit can be given to how I’m pretty sure they trotted out a stereotypical Tourette’s sufferer and another who stuffs food in through his nose for maximum freak, possibly comedic appeal.  I do find the choice in a film where the gender of the lead becomes a frequently discussed topic, that they cast a supporting male character under heavy prosthetics as a female actor.

I’m a sucker for the gothic imagery of the school and it’s well shot.  For a slow burn horror film, it is never dull and Will Patton as the head of the school is compelling.  That being said, it’s hard to call it a good movie by any means.  An interesting movie to be sure and one filled with some nifty ideas and moments that wants to try something new, but it bites off far more than it can chew and struggles to justify its thematic diversions.