BOYS IN THE TREES (2016) is an Australian film about growing up and letting go of the past in order to accept change. There’s a supernatural element that I believe is supposed to be surprising but is strongly signaled early on. I found it a really mixed bag. The set up is terrific, and then it becomes increasingly stilted and heavy until the end. Overall, the film could have easily lost 20-30 minutes. I liked it (particularly the first half) but didn’t love it (mostly due to the second half).
Corey is a senior in high school during the 90s, and graduation is right around the corner (school is ending around Halloween, but it’s Australia). He’s a skater kid, secure in his social standing with the other alpha boys led by Jango. He’s interested in photography and hopes to leave town for the wider world, which Jango finds threatening. Jango comes across as deeply insecure, monitoring his tribe and keeping them in line. He’s threatened by Corey liking a girl named Romany. He’s particularly cruel to Jonah, a loner boy whom everybody dislikes.
Corey and Jonah were best friends in their youth, but something happened, and they grew apart. Corey feels guilty about one of Jango’s pranks and, sick of the usual crap, goes off on his own. He bumps into Jonah and they agree to walk home together, reliving their childhood and dreams along the way. This is a strength of the movie, its exploration of how kids start out together in innocence but are forced apart as puberty creates a new social hierarchy.
The movie starts off great with plenty of 90s nostalgia, excellent music sequences, and interesting characters backed by decent acting. When Corey and Jonah agree to walk together, things started to go downhill for me. There’s on-the-nose symbolism (Corey is told he must “run with the wolves or get eaten like a lamb,” his Halloween costume is a wolf mask, and he drops and leaves it when he decides to change). Jango comes across as obsessed with Corey and his allegiance. Corey stops being, well, cool. And Jonah speaks in sophisticated monologues that leave no doubt why he was antagonized in high school. While the revelation of why they stopped being friends so long ago was powerful, the ending could have been far more powerful if it hadn’t been so strongly signaled earlier in the film, and if the dialogue weren’t so stilted.
So overall, I found BOYS IN THE TREES to be pretty uneven. I liked it, especially the first half, and might have loved it if the script had stuck to the relationships in the gang and not between Corey and Jonah, who never comes across as very likeable.