Baoz Yakin’s last movie, Max, was about Kate Mara saving a disabled dog. When the name of the movie is also the name of the dog, you know what you’re getting. Fun for the whole family, assuming the whole family enjoys saccharine animal movies. But now he’s made this bloody burlesque? Don’t be fooled by the prosaic title. Boarding School is a delighfully macabre coming-of-age freak show, in which each development is weirder than the next.
The key to this horror show is Luke Prael, an aburdly pretty child actor whose prettiness was one of the running jokes in the movie Eighth Grade. But he’s no joke here. Although he’s a bit stiff, he’s admirably fearless. He needs to be since Boarding School plays subversively with gender identity and sexuality. This isn’t the Spielburg/King homage you might expect when the title card says, “The 90s”. It’s dressed to kill at sleepaway camp. It wants to let the right one in. This stuff can be dicey when it involves kids. It can be even dicier when the kids have serious disabilities. And even dicier still in a movie about murder, ghosts, monsters, vampires, Nazis, and Will Patton’s malevolent smirk.
Patton’s having a great time in Boarding School, and he’s squarely in the “giving no fucks” stage of his career as a character actor. He affects a pinched voice and an old coot demeanor. Such weird choices given the Dickensian cruelty of his character! But because the payoff comes down to conversations and decisions, weird works. Any ol’ horror movie about the demented principal of a scary boarding school can culminate in gratuitous bloodletting. Boarding School certainly isn’t shy about gore (a throat-slitting scene is uncomfortably memorable). But Yakin has been writing long enough to know that blood and fire are no substitute for conversations and decisions. And he writes well enough to ask, “Why not both?”