Being sent away to a special school is every kid’s nightmare, and that nightmare is vividly brought to life in Boarding School, a new Horror-Thriller which arrives in theaters and On Demand/Digital HD as of Friday, August 31, 2018, thanks to Entertainment One.
Brooklyn born and raised Jacob (Luke Prael: Boy in a Backpack short 2016, Eighth Grade 2018) has some bizarre pre-bedtime rituals that involve covering all mirrors and checking under the bed, which, you know, is extra odd considering he is a teenager. Although, he is seemingly super into comic books and vampires, and maybe something fantastical has inspired his distrust of sleeping with the lights off. It does not exactly help matters that mom (Samantha Mathis: Little Women 1994, American Psycho 2000) is a little intense, though his stepfather (David Aaron Baker: Two Weeks Notice 2002, Edge of Darkness 2010) appears to be a good, stand up guy who is trying extra hard.
When Jacob’s maternal grandmother, whom he has never met, passes away, a series of events will change his young life forever. First, while still in the cemetery, he has a chance encounter with a seemingly whacky old woman (Barbara Kingsley: The Straight Story 1999, Jessica Jones series) who relays a tale from the Holocaust that will haunt his young psyche. Perhaps so much so that, whether from idle curiosity or a case of hero worship, he begins to sort through his grandmother’s belongings and experiments with her lovely vintage wardrobe, an old phonograph, and some tango. When his stepfather catches him “in the act,” if you will, Jacob quickly finds himself sent off to boarding school.
Here, in a gorgeous stone mansion in the country, the headmaster, Dr. Sherman (Will Patton: Armageddon 1998, Remember the Titans 2000), is also the sole teacher and counselor, and, almost predictably, a huge proponent of corporal punishment and the Bible. His young wife, Mrs. Sherman (Tammy Blanchard: The Good Shepherd 2006, Into the Woods 2014), is a kind of headmistress-slash-mother figure who greets the students and serves meals. Which are superbly chaotic, despite there only being seven students in the entire school.
In attendance alongside Jacob (who has brought along grandma’s opera gloves and gown in his backpack) are handicapped, but kindly giant Elwood (Nicholas J. Oliveri: The Bronx Dahmer 2015) and Frederic (Christopher Dylan White: The Invisible Worm 2016, Gotham series), who suffers from Tourette’s. Twins Lenny (Kobi George: The Sopranos series, Kings series) and Calvin (Kadin George: The Sopranos series, Kings series) don’t seem to have any obvious issues, while the soft-spoken and superbly intelligent Phil (Nadia Alexander: The Sinner series, Blame 2017) has been disfigured in a horrible fire. For her part, the sole female student, Christine (Sterling Jerins: The Conjuring 2013, World War Z 2013), is either a bored little rich girl or a complete sociopath.
When one of the students turns up dead one night, Jacob, much in thanks to wayward Christine, will begin to ask himself some serious questions about his personal safety here at this school. What follows is a tale that toys with gender roles, while paralleling a tale of the Holocaust, to author a unique and haunting movie-going experience that is darkly mysterious and fully moody.
Clocking in at 111 minutes in-length, Boarding School was written and directed by the superbly-talented Boaz Yakin (Fresh 1994, Remember the Titans 2000). It also stars Sonya Balsara (Mozart in the Jungle series), Allison Winn (Daredevil series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt series), and Tim Haber (Drowned Out 2012, Deadbeat series). While Boarding School is billed as a new entry into the Horror-Thriller field, it plays out more like a Thriller offering with some very slight elements of Horror. Which is to say that you should not go into your experience expecting severed heads and theatrical blood splatter, but rather, a tale steeped in real life horrors, both historical and modern, and tons of drama.
Truly what sets the entire ball rolling here is Kingsley’s performance as Tsipi, a seemingly whacky old Jewish woman who corners Jacob in a beautiful old cemetery after his grandmother’s burial. Kingsley is commendable in her performance, creepy enough to raise hackles while believable enough to carry weight with her tale. Whether you view her as a crazy old coot or a survivor marked by her life experiences, there is no arguing that the information she provides weighs heavily throughout the entire film. Her story provides the entire Holocaust storyline, which, in many ways, parallels Jacob’s modern day experiences.
That said, of course, the bulk of the film’s success relies upon its main actor, the glorious young Prael. As Jacob, Prael toes a myriad of lines, from curious, comic-book loving teen to fierce momma bear toward his classmates to some intriguing explorations of fashion. Considering that this is a film that is subtle, artful and intelligent and never goes for exploitive or blatant face slaps, Prael is often left to convey the story far beyond its already layered script. Of this, he does a beautiful job and dances a delicate tango (pun intended) with precision, making his multi-layered character believable, even likeable in his sour-faced teenage-dom. As his direct support, Jerins also dances with adeptness, portraying a character that is part spoiled little rich girl and part sociopath. Her subtlety in the role leaves the viewer to ultimately decide how they view Christine, giving greater weight to her character and establishing her acting talents.
Ultimately, Boarding School is a truly haunting tale with a multitude of layers to its story: one that comments on gender roles, much in thanks to Jacob’s fascination with his grandmother’s attire and constantly being referred to as “feminine,” while others explore parallels between grandmother and grandson, as well as the fiercely protective streak embedded in one Jewish family’s bloodline. You could almost say that there is an underlying feminist hurrah to Boarding School, as we are quickly taught that being feminine hardly makes us weak! For these reasons, CrypticRock give Boarding School 4.5 of 5 stars.