Arriving in theaters and on VOD this Tuesday is The Boy, a quiet thriller that focuses on a burgeoning sociopath and how sometimes too much isolation can definitely be a bad thing. The film premiered earlier this year at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival and while this writer missed out on seeing it in Austin, I enjoyed the opportunity to not only catch up with the film now, but also speak to two of the gentlemen behind the project, co-writer and director Craig William Macneill and co-writer Clay McLeod.

Check out what both Macneill and McLeod had to say about adapting The Boy for the big screen, working with the folks over at SpectreVision and their trio of actors in the film (David Morse, Rainn Wilson and newcomer Jared Breeze) and how they hope viewers to have a little sympathy for the devil after seeing their collaboration when its released this week.

Great to speak with you guys and great job on the film as well. Let's go back to the beginning for a second and discuss the process of adapting this story into a feature. I noticed that this was originally something from a novel you worked on Clay- what was it about this story in particular that made you guys decide to take it further?

Craig: Well, first the thing is, is that Clay had written his novel, Miss Corpus. There's a chapter in the novel titled, "The Henley Road Motel," which I was a huge fan of. So, I approached Clay and asked him if he would be okay with us making a short film based on the chapter, which of course he was excited about. Then we went ahead and made the short and it was titled, Henley. It screened at Sundance in 2012. Soon after Sundance, the guys over at SpectreVision came across the short and wanted to talk to us about turning that short into a feature and we were really excited about that conversation.

Clay: And I feel really lucky because, I have a director like Craig who has a distinct vision and knows what he wants and he can call BS on my storytelling skills, when it's proper to push the story in its own cinematic direction. I think what was exciting for me was that, I had written the novel and Craig responded to it because he saw this story within that novel and given it the breathing space to live and exist independently of the book. That's what you want with a novel being turned into a film or an adaptation of a literary source. Whereas if people want to go back to the novel and see the root of it, it's there and it exists and it stands on its own two legs. It's almost like seeing your kid off to college, it's grown up, it's all on its own and it has become its own person and it becomes this self-sufficient entity that doesn't need you any longer- until that last tuition is due (laughs).

You guys mentioned SpectreVision, which obviously there are a talented group of people at the helm there. Were they very hands on with you guys or were they just like, “okay we love that initial idea just go and make it your own?”

Clay: They actually had a conversation early on, independently of us, where they were like, "Wouldn't it be awesome to do an origin story of a serial killer?" And, lo and behold this short film Henley drops in their lap. So they were like, "This is what we wanted to do, only better." So there was definitely a melding of the minds really; we had probably a year, maybe a year and a half of developing the script with them, getting their feedback. They've been there from the ground floor on up, which I think makes it a home team effort for everybody involved.

Craig: Yeah, they were very supportive, very collaborative and as a director I feel very fortunate because they gave me a lot of freedom to tell the story I wanted to tell they put a lot of trust in me, which is great, which is everything you can ask for in a producer.

Clay: Definitely. And what I think is really cool about a movie like The Boy is, we've seen movies about the genesis of serial killers and what I loved about it was that Ted was a kid that you liked and you felt for and yet you start to see how he just begins to slip away. It's really fascinating and there's a really nice juxtaposition between having somebody you really like and you really are drawn to, and yet you're watching them do these horrific things, these really unsettling things, and you know that there are bad things coming.

If you take any serial killer movie, like Friday the 13th or Halloween, usually the first five minutes of the movie where you see the origin or the point of genesis of who Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, whoever it is, you have that brief coda at that beginning that kind of says- now they will become the person who will live in infamy. But, we really wanted to take that first five minute teaser and actually explore it, really turn the rock over and see all the squiggly things underneath it.

We all know these types of origin stories of who these people turn out to be, but you don't really, you don't sympathize with them. There's no sympathy for the devil. There's no empathy for these characters, because it's just a flash. Now, if you really take the time to focus on each beat that leads to that actual evolution of who they will become, you end up feeling a certain empathy for who these people are.

Two things that I really enjoyed about the movie were the cinematography and the sound design. I thought it was great how in some of those moments, where it's so still and so quiet, there’s still that sound penetrating throughout. It keeps everything feeling very unsettling throughout the film and it was just nice how the visuals complimented the story as well.

Craig: Yeah, the film soundscape draws heavily on the environment and makes use of these natural noises that haunt the isolated world that Ted lives in. The wind, the rain, the creaking floor boards, the groaning of these old structures- these sounds were really an emotional trigger into this lonely landscape, in these isolated characters.

In terms of the camera work, I wanted to create a balance between static shots and looser handheld and slowly moving camera pans and creeping zones. We used a lot of long lenses, that compress space and we often played with foreground obstructions and reflections to put the viewer further away from the subject to enhance his sense of isolation. In a lot of the composition, we’d place the character towards the edge of the frame, so we're really embracing the negative space around them. I think it makes the subject and the audience vulnerable to what's just outside the frame. It's something I enjoyed playing with.

Clay: Yeah, and Noah Greenburg, our cinematographer, has lived with this project just as long as Craig and I. He was the cinematographer for the short too, so I feel like three of us have been the holy trinity of this story. It's great to put Noah on the pedestal with this, it was incredibly how he lensed this thing.

I know we're getting close on time but I want to talk about David, Rainn and Jared before we go. They all put in some incredible work in the film and I was hoping to hear from you on what made them a perfect for The Boy.

Craig: Rainn, to me,  was a very exciting choice for the role of William. I don't think we've seen him do a character quite like this before. He's got this great capacity to express and repress emotion with equal nuance and force, which was really fun to watch for me as a director.

I think the biggest concern going into The Boy though was finding the right eight-year-old lead. I thought it was going to take months and months and months of searching but Ted was literally one of the first five kids we saw. I wanted to find somebody who had very little narrative film acting experience, because I wanted to capture the innocence of childhood and avoid any sort of ‘jazz handy’- kind of style which you can sometimes see in childhood actors. Jared, he's so full of energy and he really embodied that sense of childhood wonder.

I knew it was going to be a challenge but if we got it right, I think we all had the feeling like it would be capturing lightning in a bottle with him. I think we caught it, I think he's brilliant in the film. And he's in almost every frame so it was important that Jared to have that kind of presence to him, but at the same time he’s also lovable too. So, when he's doing all these horrible things, you're still sort of rooting for him.

Clay: Yeah, and I love David Morse. I feel like he is the emotional center of the movie and we were so lucky to get him. Every day on set, everyday watching the edits come together you really, you realize how thankless of a job it is to take a role that maybe more like a haiku on paper and turn it into full-fledged sonnet but I think David Morse totally did that.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.