Brooklyn Horror FF 2018: BOO! Review – An Intimate Brew of Family Dysfunction
Starring Aurora Perrineau, Jaden Piner, Jill Marie Jones
Written by Luke Jaden, Diane Michelle
Directed by Luke Jaden
I am a single parent of two young kids. My boys have handled life well enough in the past couple of years since the divorce, but I constantly worry about them and for them: am I present enough? If my oldest son has an issue he’s dealing with, would he feel comfortable coming to me about it, or would he process that in harmful ways? Am I too absorbed in my own mental recovery? If my kids were straying from the path that I’m forging for them, would I even notice? Will I be able to hold our family together?
I know I’m not the only one that has these fears, and mine isn’t the only family that’s fractured.
Likewise, the family of Boo! is going through hard times, and they’re about to get a lot harder when a curse arrives on their doorstep. A note they find foretells tragedy for the inhabitants of the household unless they pass along the curse to another doorstep. The note is quickly dismissed as blasphemic hijinks and crumpled up into a ball.
As opposed to, say, the warm and fuzzy Freelings of Poltergeist, Boo! introduces and relates its family through their dysfunction. Patriarch James (Rob Zabrecky, A Ghost Story) is convinced that the way to suburban bliss is in fire-and-brimstone piety, and refuses to acknowledge any evidence to the contrary. His selective faith and devotion is a source of resentment for his wife and children, even leading Caleb to bemoan, “You believe in talking snakes, demons, angels…but you won’t believe me.” Elyse (Jill Marie Jones, Ash vs. Evil Dead) drowns herself in pills and booze to the point of numbness, rather than deal with her dead marriage and unrelatable children. Morgan (Aurora Perrineau, Passengers) copes by treating her family like trash in general; she’s the only character who never attempts to reconcile with anyone, only thinking of herself. A testament to Perrineau’s acidic performance, Morgan is easily the least likable member of the clan. Normally, one could chalk her flat arc up to poor writing but it ultimately works in a story about a family that doesn’t try to save each other until its possibly too late. That obstinate refusal to acknowledge what’s going on is at play in varying degrees with each member except for young Caleb (Jaden Piner, Moonlight) who acts as a harbinger from film’s beginning. The most frustrating element of the family’s dynamic is that the adults, who do seem to genuinely care, don’t listen to the child whose room is covered in ominous crayon scrawls of shapeshifting apparitions, but that’s par for the course in any sort of horror movie.
As with any curse worth its salt, the Boo! curse preys upon the fears and self-perceived weaknesses of each family member. Elyse’s past miscarriage comes back to haunt her in the form of an elusive crying infant. James’ childhood bully shows up with a spoon to administer some brutal child’s play. Morgan hears voices telling her to self-harm like she used to. Actual monsters are few and far in between, which is probably for the best because the apparitions shown onscreen suffer heavily from CGI Vapor Syndrome. The true source of horror is in having to watch a family in self-destruct mode, and hoping that they can break their domestic curse before its too late.
That said, the acutely scary moments are well-crafted, marching to a routine beat. Most of the jump scares avoid predictability, instead opting to ooze as much dread out of the moment as possible before letting the hammer fall. This allows for, among other things, a fantastic sequence with a Viewfinder toy that puts fear into stereoscope form. This and other bumps in the night occur while Jaden and screenwriter Diane Michelle steadily turn up the heat on the family dynamics as tensions reach a boiling point, which explains the inclusion of Super Dark Times‘ writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski as co-executive producers; slow tension is the name of the game. The claws and blood in Boo! are the cherry on top; this cake’s richness comes from a hefty spoonful of the sustained helpless dread that comes along with watching your family deteriorate before your eyes.
Jaden strikes a delicate creative balance, putting stylized elements in the employ of realist themes. Unafraid to bring the camera up close and personal, he confronts his characters with unsettling proximity in close-ups as they confront their respective and collective issues, and it makes sense. Jaden understands what Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg understood while making Poltergeist, and what James Wan understood while making both of The Conjuring films: intimacy breeds tension and stirs the heart. So much time is spent in the trenches with this family, in fact, that the film’s ending feels abrupt, and it is. But without spoiling the final moments, it’s safe to say that this is a movie that sticks to its own rules. Luke Jaden and Diane Michelle aren’t beholden to what they know the audience wants, and as such, they issue several bold denials of sympathetic narrative occurrences. Just because you want good things to happen to good people doesn’t mean that the story must provide that, which works for Boo!. It’s important to discern the difference between a story about a family trying to break a curse, and a story of a cursed, broken family. Boo! is the latter.
Luke Jaden’s supernatural chiller expands upon the old Samhain concept of spirits punishing those who won’t participate in the holiday festivities, with the added bleak weight of a broken family’s dying gasps.The scares themselves are well-executed but the plot is saturated in dread, which is where the real craft shines through. A worthy watch.”