Bertrand Mandico’s debut feature is an odd beast, to say the very least. Set at the turn of the 20th century, this Belgian coming-of-age fantasy sees a group of upper-class high-school troublemakers exiled to an island that has gender-flipping powers. The trees secrete milky white fluids and suggestively shaped flora cocoon the delinquents until their metamorphosis is complete. The film is in many ways an out-there homage to boys-own adventure romps – think Guy Maddin splicing together A Clockwork Orange and The Lord of the Flies, with plenty of gooey substances and prosthetic genitalia thrown in for good measure.
That description may oversell the finished result, which is as frustrating as it is peculiarly fascinating. The five schoolboys are played by female actors, and their solid work is frustratingly undone by some immature indulgences. More could have been done with the underlying themes of gender-blurring and rebellion, and the transgressive spirit it was aiming for would have been galvanized by deeper probing, so to speak.
As it stands, the chief joy of The Wild Boys isn’t to be found in the script (also written by Mandico) but in its imagery and stylistic flourishes. The film is shot in 16mm monochrome, with occasional splashes of colour; the grainy quality of the image, together with the lighting and the fake sets, lends the film an air of heightened realism. It’s not disturbing enough to provoke or insightful enough to fully capitalise on its hallucinatory feel, but you can be sure you won’t see anything else like it all year.
The Wild Boys (Les Garçons Sauvages) | Directed by Bertrand Mandico (Belgium, 2017), with Pauline Lorillard, Vimala Pons, Anaël Snoek. Starts May 23.
Check our OV search engine for showtimes.