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John’s Horror Corner: Boarding School (2018), an R-rated, young adult, dark coming-of-age.

December 16, 2018

MY CALL: There’s no way to describe this film without spoiling it. So, I’ll just say it’s a good yet weird horror film geared for audiences transitioning beyond PG-13… and it’s very unconventional. Expect murderous scenes depicted with lighter-than-expected moods—but far from funny. MOVIES LIKE Boarding School: For more coming-of-age horror, try The Company of Wolves (1984), Society (1989), Ginger Snaps (2000), Teeth (2007), Jennifer’s Body (2009), Raw (2016), The Neon Demon (2016) and It (2017).

After learning that preteen Jacob (Luke Prael; Eighth Grade) never met his recently deceased grandmother because his mother thought she was a horrible woman, I was already feeling aftershocks of Hereditary (2018). And when a freaky old lady commented that his eyes were “just like hers” at her funeral, I was all but certain I was in for a similar “witch grandmother possession” ride. But boy, was I ever wrong!

Jacob suffers from night terrors, he’s bullied at school, and he shares a strained relationship with his mother (Samantha Mathis; The Clovehitch Killer, The Strain, American Psycho). Life was already hard. But after he’s caught dressing in his late grandmother’s clothes, his parents place him in the hands of Dr. Sherman (Will Patton; Halloween, The Mothman Prophecies, The Fourth Kind), the principal of an isolated boarding school for troubled kids.

Jacob’s fellow students are caricatures of disturbed youths to such manner that Jacob is the most normal student there. But the weirdness is not limited to the students when considering the questionable motives of Dr. Sherman, who readily beats classmate Christine (Sterling Jerins; The Conjuring 1-2, World War Z) at every opportunity.

The tone of the film shifts to odd degree, briefly feeling dark and serious at first, then a lighter “young adult” mood (and often upbeat adventurous score) is adopted as we’re introduced to the boarding school and Jacob’s classmates. Like an R-rated Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018), Christine finds that their schoolmasters have secrets and Jacob finds a dead classmate. But still, things remain playful in tone. Playful, but while toying with gender roles, sexual identity and coming-of-age. Writer and director Boaz Yakin (Max, Safe, Uptown Girls, Remember the Titans) isn’t exactly known for his horror movies. In fact, this is his first in a career built largely on wholesomeness except for the R-rated Fresh (1994) and Safe (2012).

Even as its tendencies manifest increasingly slash-and-gash homicidal, the atmosphere remains a feisty; slightly more mature than young adult level—imagine Goosebumps (2015) if Jack Black happily lacerated some kid’s face with a straight razor as blood splattered across his smiling face… but keep most of the other aspects the same. Yeah, it’s a little hard to describe this tone. I’d recommend it to those transitioning from PG-13 to R horror with an open mind regarding the unconventional.

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