People who don’t like modern horror movies frequently point to the jump scares. I’ve defended them in other reviews (here, here, and here), because they’re not the problem. Jumpscares are like cheese. They can add quite a bit of flavor to a film. The problem, which people are rightly perceiving, comes when the cheese is put onto a hockey puck instead of a burger. In bad modern horror movies, jump scares are thrown in to spice up a boring screenplay. Instead of tightening the dialogue or shooting in interesting ways or cutting dead weight scenes, lazy filmmakers throw in nonsensical jump scares and call it a day. The moldy lettuce doesn’t taste any better with some Parmesan cheese grated over it, but the audience is jolted. Boaz Yakin tries to substitute jump scares for substance in the first twenty minutes of his film Boarding School, and trust me, those are minutes that you can’t get back.
Jacob (Luke Prael) is a young man who dresses up in the clothes of the dead-grandmother-he-never-met and dances while his parents away. His mother screams that she wants to kill him after the first jump scare before the movie descends into painfully boring minutiae (Here’s Jacob making a sandwich! Here he is reading comic books! Now he’s watching Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath, a better movie than this one!) before Jacob finally meets with Dr. Sherman (Will Patton) and his parents agree to send him to boarding school.
There are six other pupils at the school—a boy with Tourette Syndrome, a boy with a mental disability, a boy who was burned in a fire, two boy twins of color with white parents, and a girl who is a sociopath. Notice the only girl is evil. It could be fertile ground for a story, and if Yakin had done any research maybe he could’ve gotten some of it right. Frederic’s (Christopher Dylan White) Tourette Syndrome is at first his only dialogue, which is not how that works. People with Tourette Syndrome are not just their tics. Then, when it becomes convenient for him to be able to say other things, Yakin allows him to. The other kids are overused Hollywood stereotypes as well, and Yakin has no interest in writing any deeper than that.
Those aren’t the only details he gets wrong. Phil (Nadia Alexander) is the kind of kid that says, “You’d find more commonality than variation.” The movie is set in the 90s, and yet, Phil quotes the world population as 6 billion people, when in the 1990s it would’ve been 5.2 billion. It’s a small thing, but the kind that matters, because if I’m to believe a kid is going to talk like a megaphone put in front of a bad essay by an honors science student, then the kid’s got to get his facts right.
The action doesn’t work either. It’s all shot in such a way that by the time you realize something might happen, it’s already happening. It’s bad storytelling. If it were good, Yakin would have found a way to tip off his audience before horrific moments and let viewers simmer in dread. Instead, everything comes as a surprise. Not in the “of course” way but in the “I thought that Bud Light was a Sprite” way.
The worst part of this movie, by far though, is the incorporation of the Holocaust. Jacob’s grandmother was a Holocaust Survivor, and after her death he dreams of her each night. The problem with it is that the dreams are in German (I believe, forgive me if my ear for languages is wrong) and outside of the first jump scare, she doesn’t speak to him. Because the dreams are in German without subtitles, that means he doesn’t understand them and they must be supernatural, and since his grandmother is a ghost she must be sending them.
But to what end? The dreams tell a sordid story, where a soldier rapes a friend of Jacob’s grandmother every night. Jacob’s grandmother steals a nail file to sharpen her teeth (all of this revealed in the first ten minutes). We can all see where this is going. But why this is part of Jacob’s story is unclear. Jacob is in danger, at a boarding school where the headmaster is intending to kill each student. But he doesn’t gain any knowledge, any wisdom from the dreams. These two parallel stories told together don’t ever interact in any meaningful way. The main story is too cartoonish to go next to the Holocaust without seeming disrespectful to the six million Jewish people killed in it.
Horror can deal with these big issues. Get Out does an excellent job portraying race in America. Possession (Zulawski’s, not Rami’s) is a thunderously accurate metaphor for the way divorce can sunder worlds as much as people. Hereditary is an excellent meditation on grief for sixty minutes before it goes into full-horror mode. The only thing a horror movie risks by getting serious is the deluge of idiots saying it isn’t a horror movie.
Boaz Yakin, who wrote and directed Boarding School, can, and has, done better. Remember the Titans?
WICKED RATING: 2/10
Director(s): Boaz Yakin
Writer(s): Boaz Yakin
Stars: Luke Prael, Sterling Jerins, Will Patton
Release: August 31, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Farcaster Films, Gigantic Pictures