Boaz Yakin has written, directed and produced a wide variety of movies over the past 30 years, from indie crime dramas like “Fresh” to prestige studio fare like “Remember the Titans.” But he’s never made anything quite like “Boarding School,” an uncompromising coming-of-age psychodrama masquerading as gothic horror.
Luke Brael stars as Jacob, a working-class New York middle-schooler often bullied for his soft, feminine features — which at home he accentuates by dressing up in his late grandmother’s gowns. When Jacob’s parents send him away to a remote religious school run by a disciplinarian (played by Will Patton), he’s surrounded by other “problem children” with varying mental, neurological and physical disorders.
Soon the kids start dying under mysterious circumstances, while the headmaster threatens a coming reckoning. As Jacob tries to figure out what’s really happening, he continues to explore cross-dressing and to reflect on his grandma’s experiences in the Holocaust.
Yakin compensates for his cast’s wildly disparate acting talents by keeping the dialogue simple and the tone broadly melodramatic. He also relies on beautifully ornate sets and his well-honed craft to generate atmosphere and tension.
Still, thrill-seekers should be warned that this is more a surreal, nightmarish and occasionally sexually explicit trip into an adolescent’s psyche than a spook show. Yakin uses genre packaging for an intense, personal film, which many viewers may find discomfiting — if only because it’s so hard to classify.
Rated: R, for disturbing violent content, bloody images, some sexual material and language
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood