I love a good ol’ cinematic murder fest. In many of the heyday classics, a vague story line merely serves as a general set up for a ridiculous array of increasingly outrageous kills. Other such films, however, offer a compelling plot that cleverly outlines a logical (albeit questionable) motivation for the gruesome acts performed onscreen. I have an affinity for either, relishing any film spectacle that makes my jaw drop, yet I will admit that those featuring some sort of motivation are as satisfying as they are shocking. Firmly in the latter category, Boaz Yakin’s (REMEMBER THE TITANS, SAFE) latest horror/thriller BOARDING SCHOOL offers up a squeal-worthy amount of gore along with a compelling tale of hair-raising multi-generational family dynamics.
The story begins as young Jacob (Luke Prael, EIGHTH GRADE) and his family mourn the recent passing of his grandmother, a holocaust survivor. His mom Isabel (Samantha Mathis, PUMP UP THE VOLUME, LITTLE WOMEN) is already at her wit’s end with her troubled son. Jacob’s increasingly odd behavior and harrowing night terrors prompt her and her husband (Jacob’s step dad) to seek out professional intervention.
Enter the mysterious Dr. Sherman (Will Patton, ARMAGEDDON, REMEMBER THE TITANS), the head of an exclusive boarding school who promises to rehabilitate Jacob under his tutelage. After his mom reluctantly drops him off at the remote academy, Jacob soon learns that he is one of only a handful of students that are each afflicted with varying abnormal characteristics that have made their assimilation into an average school difficult. As Jacob gets to know more about this gang of misfits, he discovers a sinister purpose behind their re-education.
From the get-go, Yakin fills each frame with beautiful and ominous imagery. There’s not one moment of the film that feels okay. This unnerving feeling continues to grow as Jacob takes on a morbid fascination with his deceased grandmother which culminates in visions of her unthinkable struggles while hiding out during the holocaust. As the dark story unfolds, questions about the desperate measures a person will go through for self preservation are raised in the context of the past as well as the present.
The film itself is gorgeously shot with plenty of layered and foreboding scenes to keep the audience on edge. Though there are a few light moments between the students, Yakin is sure to imbue each scene with ample uneasiness which facilitates a counterintuitive yet satisfying sense of relief when the slow burn vibe gives way to splatter time.
In the role of Dr. Sherman, Will Patton (ARMAGEDDON, THE PUNISHER) positively owns every frame in which he appears, completely selling his hard ass, abusive character as well as the outrageous mayhem that eventually ensues.
As the mysterious Mrs. Sherman, Tammy Blanchard (THE INVITATION, INTO THE WOODS) provides the perfect dose of suspicious cheerfulness as the nervous schoolmarm who keeps a close eye on the students at all times.
As Isabel, the harried mother of the troubled Jacob, Samantha Mathis captures the fragility of a woman raised by a matriarch who fiercely protected her from the kind of evil she faced during the Holocaust. Though sorely underutilized in the film, Mathis’ sincere take on Isabel helps ground a cast of otherwise dubious characters.
Newcomer Luke Prael is completely captivating as young Jacob, taking on some seriously heavy subject matter with surprising confidence for a film debut. While Prael certainly holds his own along side screen veterans Patton and Mathis, it is Sterling Jerins (WORLD WAR Z, THE CONJURING) that entirely steals the show as his maniacal tween antagonist. Her witty, old-soul take on the nefarious Christine keeps the audience guessing right up until the bitter end.
Aside from insidious parallels between the past and present, the film also delves into themes of gender identity and sexuality. These sequences read as provocative on the surface, but they also provide an honest representation of the turmoil and self discovery during adolescence while not backing away from some of the more sinister inclinations of human nature.
BOARDING SCHOOL is a wholly unique story, with psychological thrills that rival the visceral ones. Though the unfolding story line serves as a perfect vehicle for a succession of crescendoing kills, an intriguing plot and bonus subplot save the film from feeling too over the top when the horror aspects kick into full gear.
Check out BOARDING SCHOOL hits theaters and VOD on August 31.
Until next time,
Aka Annette Kellerman