It's the 31st of October 1997, and in this Australian suburb the older kids are looking forward to never having to go to school again, for this is their final day. Jango (Justin Holborow) is the ringleader of the bullies, who see it as their duty to pick on the others as if it were part of the natural order of things, a hierarchy that makes perfect sense to him because he has never been confronted with his actions. Take this afternoon, as he and his chums gear up for the mayhem of trick or treat, and he makes a point of knocking one of the younger kids, Jonah (Gulliver McGrath), to the ground and bloodying his nose. One of Jango's pals, Corey (Toby Wallace) takes a photo of him.
This is because Corey plans to take a photography course when he leaves school and turn professional, so all of life is grist to his mill, but this fateful night will have him confronting many aspects of himself as he surprises himself by palling around with Jonah for the evening. It starts out with the usual mischief, but somehow he is separated from Jango, who likes to think of himself as a wolf whose mission in life is to kill lambs, or if not kill them make their lives a misery, all for the twisted pleasure and status it gives him, not bothered that it makes reasonable people think he's beneath contempt. But even Jango will have his awakening this night, it was one of those coming of age tales.
Some never quite graduate from the schoolyard mindset that marks society out as the victims and victimised, but if there was a theme to Boys in the Trees it was that we must move on from toxic beliefs born of immaturity and grasp the nettle of adulthood, no matter how uncomfortable it may make you in the short term, for in the long term it will do you the power of good. Imagine being stuck as Jango your whole life, writer and director Nicholas Verso posited, never seeing enough good in those around you and concentrating on every negative you can discern because it boosts your hollow-hearted ego, such as it was. All very well, and coupled with a highly atmospheric sheen, this should have been a triumph.
A thought-provoking triumph at that, yet as many were wont to point out, good intentions only got Boys in the Trees so far, for at almost two hours long it was a real endurance test to sit through when every scene was portraying that anti-bullying, walk a mile in the other man's moccasins point of view to the extent that you were keen to have the night be over and everyone going home with their new perspective to chew on. That did happen eventually, and with a supernatural bent to proceedings that was perhaps a little guessable given the overall tone of the surreal that informed more or less every shot. It was set on Halloween, after all, and you would be able to anticipate the spookier side of life was abroad in the dark, according to countless movies, at any rate, though this was not a horror.
It was not simply a three-way personality clash between Corey, Jango and Jonah either, for there was a feminine influence, mostly of eye-rolling disdain that these boys were trapped in their cycle of bad behaviour without realising there was more to getting through life than getting one over on the other guy. She was Romany (Mitzi Ruhlmann), and she is a contemporary of Corey's, and indeed has a romantic interest in him which would have blossomed had he escaped the clutches of Jango, but for most of the film he is a bit of an idiot and doesn't twig, though he is not averse to the idea. He does come around eventually, thanks to the exposure to Jonah's walking tour of the suburbs which resembled one of those ghost walks at points, where the spectres are those who never fulfilled their potential and Corey might be joining them if he's not careful. Alas, for all these noble intentions, with no variation in the approach, this was a tedious experience where you may find yourself annoyed that it kept missing its chances to neatly wrap itself up well before the end credits actually rolled. Music by Shinjuku Thief and Darrin Verhagen.