Feral children are lost or abandoned, left to fend for their own, often in wilderness. Many are adapted by animals. Reintegration into their respective societies is difficult if and when they are discovered. These feral children need to relearn everything, starting with language. One of them is the object of objectionable horror in Olga Gorodetskaya’s feature-length debut, Evil Boy.
The story starts with Igor (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) identifying the body of a child that may be his son. The coroner says, “I have to warn you, the body is mutilated” before Igor flashes back to the last time he saw his son, Vanya (Yan Runov) alive. In that aside, Vanya asks, “Daddy, please, can I go out by myself?” Mother/wife Polina (Elena Lyadova) says no, but Igor gives Vanya his heirloom watch and instructions to be back by 6. Vanya never returns. The flashback ends, and Igor says the body isn’t Vanya.
The story skips three years forward from there. Igor and Polina are at an orphanage, looking for their next child. A shotgun rings loud as the groundskeeper dies by suicide. A strange boy (Sevastian Bugaev) flees the groundkeeper’s apartment. The other kids surround the boy, bullying him until Polina breaks through the circle and hugs him to her chest. The orphanage is full of children, but Igor and Polina break all of the rules to take this one, who in the credits is, with great sensitivity and care, named “Stray.”
Slowly, Polina begins to suspect that this child is the same one they lost. Vanya’s body was never found, and a doctor estimates “Stray” would be about Vanya’s age. After that conversation, Polina makes a baffling, sweeping declaration that they’re rejecting all the help offered by hospitals, psychologists, psychiatrists, and linguists in helping “Stray” adjust to living indoors. What follows is a mix of Pet Sematary and The Omen.
Some of “Stray’s” behavior is taken from the real plight of feral children: he struggles to speak, hides under the sofa when scared, and is distrustful of the new foods his new family is feeding him after however long in the wild. But “Stray” has another side. He glides through the air like a vampire in the Underworld series when angry. He takes chunks out of the cat and then some neighborhood kids who take his ball. “Stray” is coded as dangerous. The film teaches audiences how feral children act with the realistic details, then teaches audiences to fear feral children by showing “Stray’s” violent, supernatural behaviors. Teaching audiences to fear, rather than pity children who have been abandoned or neglected to the point they’d rather live with wolves than their parents, is condemnable.
Evil Boy isn’t devoid of merit. The makeup crew does an excellent job of making “Stray” look more and more like Vanya throughout the film. There are enough instances of the story punishing Igor after he ignores Polina that one could read Evil Boy as a critique of the way toxic masculinity destroys men. The cinematographer Ilya Ovsenev does excellent work photographing the beauty of the forests and the horror in later scenes. But the exploitation of feral children makes it very hard to enjoy any of that. Hopefully, Gorodetskaya and her co-writer Anna Starobinets can find better material for their next effort.
Wicked Rating – 4/10
Director: Olga Gorodetskaya
Writers: Olga Gorodetskaya, story by Anna Starobinets
Stars: Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Sevastian Bugaev, Evgeniy Tsyganov , Anna Ukolova, Konstantin Topolaga, and Roza Khayrullina
Release Date: September 8, 2020 (DVD and On Demand)
Language: Russian, (with English dub on disc)
Runtime: 90 minutes