Igor and Polina suffer through every parents’ worst nightmare; their son, Vanya, has gone missing. Three years later, Igor arranges an orphanage visit on the outskirts of Moscow to make Polina happy again by possibly adopting a young child, but their visit is cut short when Polina discovers the gruesome dead body of a basement keeper and a savage child barred away in a dungeon-like room. Polina is instantly imprinted by the child and convinces Igor to adopt him despite the difficult malnourishment and animal like behavior, but over the course of time, the child exhibits signs of behaving like their missing son and even starting to look like Vanya, their missing son’s name Polina has now bestowed upon the child against Igor’s wishes. As the feral child shows more signs of acclimating to his new life, Igor and Polina sense something more sinister from the child whose resembling more and more like Vanya every day and begin investigating into their adopted son’s origins, a well-kept dark secret guarded by the convent orphanage.
From examining horror films from our Northern neighbors in Canada to crossing the oceans and landing in Eastern Europe of the birthplace of Vodka, Russia, we’ll be taking a look at two recently released and storied dissimilar upcoming horror movies from Russia Federation, beginning with the belief that no country is exempt from the creepy kid genre in this Russian 2019 allegory entitled “Evil Boy” as the debut film from writer-director Olga Gorodetskaya. Also known as “Stray” world-wide or “Tvar” in the original dialect, “Evil Boy” is straight-forward, focus group approved, vanilla title of a story from one of Russia’s celebrated modern novelist and screenwriter, Anna Starobinets. Also dubbed as Russia’s “Queen of Horror,” Starobinets is a prolific adolescent thriller writer whose credits includes the compilation of short, chilling stories entitled “The Awkward Age” with the featured tale of a young boy’s life diary expressed through the voice of an ant colony living inside his body and the queen his brain as a conduit for her commands. “Evil Boy” is a production from a conglomeration of companies including Yandex Studio, Cinema Foundation of Russia, Dublab, and Reason 8 Films.
The titular character of Stray or Vanya allows no audience insight and we’re impelled into the perception of the grieved parents, Polina Belova (Elena Lyadova) and more so with the father, Igor Belov (Vladimir Vdovichenkov). While director Olga Gorodetskaya is new to the scene, the chemistry of Lyadova and Vdovichenkov have well been established from a baseline foundation set from their prominent collaborative roles in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s powerful small town corruption film, “Leviathan.” Their dynamic transcends a range of individual performances from crime into the horror realm with parents going through the stripping loss of a child that has compromised their marriage to the point of desperation to the eventual short term passion that has rekindled with the adoption of the Stray, a primal role befitting young Sevastian Bugsev in his introductory feature film. Giving Bugsev credit would be such an underwhelming praise as the eight year old not only nailed the savage child performance, but also endured an aggregation of makeup that gradually transforms his character over time. What’s interesting between the three actors is that they form this family love-triangle of sorts, where Polina embraces the child, but then is frightened of it and in a role reversal, Igor is skeptical of the child, but then tries to love him unconditionally. Just in that square footage, the amount of flux emotions and mindsets can favor one side over the other; yet, the actors pull it off, almost too well, creating a an unrest of feelings, conversations, and approaches to their characters. Key supporting roles include performances another fellow “Leviathan” thespian, Evgenly Tsyganov, as well as Roza Khayrullina, Konstantin Topolaga, Anna Ukolova, and Evgenly Antropov.
“Evil Boy” has some psychology behind it. Hell, even a few of the film’s posters are composited of Rorschach tests and what “Evil Boy” ultimately boils down to is how we interpret our grief of a loved one. Polina and Igor are written to exhibit multiple signs of the clinically coined Complicated Grief that follow the patterns of avoiding the reality of death, persisting nothing has changed, and a bleak numbness to the event. The motif of trying to replace something dear with something else, as a comforting mechanism, is consistently brought to attention and goes as far as leaving a forlorn image of the same motif as a finale twist to drop an atomic loop of melancholic isotopes on you. The psyche portion of the “Evil Boy” is as equally important as the evil boy himself as it’s only a representation of our characters’ will and grief, but whether it’s Starobinets story or Gorodetskaya’s script or both, “Evil Boy” has a yawning plot hole regarding the boy’s origins that’s briefly represented with a dialogue-less scene of cataclysmic and ritualistic images jumbled together for your mind to piece. This sort of passive logic translates equally to the unpalatable editing that plunges the story into a fit of turnaround key moments unable to linger and build upon and stress character developments and form audience relations. Much of the psychology the “Evil Boy” tries to impress is squandered by Gorodetskaya fleeting approach structure that can’t even be tied together by the genuine abstract creature itself when it’s grossly mutilated CGI blunder finally makes a grand entrance.
In the height of the “Sputnik” invasion that’s currently sweeping the Russian horror charts world-wide, explore into the inner space of an anguished mindset melded with conjured up changeling European folklore and you get “Evil Boy” on DVD courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment come September 8th. The DVD is presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, that renders Ilya Ovsenev’s eerie and shadowy atmospherics, distinct in their own rite, between the sterile urban Moscow and the wooded outlier town where the parenting couple has a home in each to be alien to not only the child but also to the inhabiting parents. Ovsenev’s framing is poignant and harrowing, adding dread much needed to stir into the creature child. The image quality is relatively sharp, but there are moments of obvious color banding, such as around headlights, that suggests a lower bit compression that comes and goes with the nature of the scene. The Russian language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound rollicks in an immense range of sounds from the primal animal snarls of the young boy to car wreckage to the soft cries of a whimpering mother despite seemingly having a even-keeled tone storyline that should simmer with tension rather than overflow with nonstop action. The dialogue is clear and forefront available and the soundtrack lulls as a sleepy version of standard genre fare. English subtitles and dub track are available with the former show no sign of asynchronous harmony and no sign of errors in spelling or in timing. The only bonus feature available in the static menu is the trailer amongst trailers for other Well Go USA Entertainment releases. Perhaps, what could be construed as the Russian equivalent to Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary,” “Evil Boy” buries to reanimate suppressed grief through inclinations of folklore and psychosomatic ringers embodied by one creepy as hell kid.