Saddling a line between the subversive sexuality of Bruce LaBruce and the experimental nostalgia of Guy Maddin, The Wild Boys is an evocative debut feature from French filmmaker Bertrand Mandico. Taking up the subject of unchecked aggressive male sexuality, Wild Boys follows a group of private school boys who are put under the disciplinary influence of a brutal sea captain after committing a violent sex crime. Soon, they become entranced by a mysterious island which has a bizarre effect on their behaviour.
In many ways, The Wild Boys is a homoerotic reappraisal of an age-old cinematic and literary theme. There’s something of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, itself the jumping pad for works like Lord of the Flies (and, of course, Joel Schumacher’s uber-‘80s vampire it The Lost Boys) to Mandico’s world. The tradition of animalistic, denigrate boys, is mixed with youth-revolt/dystopian justice tales like A Clockwork Orange and even Battle Royale, into a kind of archetypal fantasy. The whole film feels like a fever dream, laced with dream logic and shot in an eclectic array of silent and psychedelic modes. For the most part the film adopts a smaller format monochrome aesthetic so that it fits its turn of the century setting, but that just makes it easier to subvert. Mandico happily adopts intoxicating swathes of colour to accent various types of scenes, particularly shots of the idyllic island or the demonised sexual urge the boys call Trevor. Oh yeah, the boys pin their awful deeds on a crystal-skulled entity that appears at various points in the film to haunt and tempt them like some drug-induced disco bogeyman.
It’s a stand-in for aggressive male sexuality which is pretty much the film’s whole deal. Though, Mandico’s message is bogged down in old-school gender politics. It starts with a group of sailors raping a boy on a beach, flashes back to show the wild boys turning on their mum-like leader, then shows the boys at the sadistic whim of the merciless captain who seeks to civilise them, and doesn’t mind exposing them to the latent power of his massive dick. Ignoring all the frontal nudity, fake penises, penis-shaped-objects, and ejaculations, The Wild Boys is a simplistic sex-play that won’t benefit from any forward-thinking analysis. The essential message of the pieces is that men would be less sexually aggressive if they were women, and somehow a feminising influence can make men less rapey.
Heavy sexual imagery and flippant treatment of rape and gender aside, it’s a tough sell because it namechecks it influences in such obvious ways. If you’ve seen Maddin’s The Forbidden Room, then you’ve seen many of the visual flavours The Wild Boys has to offer. Hiring Elina Lowensohn, who actually starred in The Forbidden Room, should have been a derivative move but it's actually the film’s smoking gun. Lowensohn adds an additional, even more treacherous level of intrigue to the film; cutting a cool silhouette through its whimsical fantasy which, without her, might have floated anonymously off into the horizon. Gorgeous, bizarre, and unique enough to merit checking out, The Wild Boys is one of the most refreshing debuts of 2018.
THE WILD BOYS / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: BERTRAND MANDICO / STARRING: PAULINE LORILLARD, VIMALA PONS, DIANE ROUXEL / ANAËL SNOEK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW