Jacob’s mother telling him of his grandmother’s death.
Boarding School is the story of twelve-year-old Jacob Felsen (Luke Prael), an only child who lives in a large New York City brownstone during the 1990s with his mother, Isabel (Samantha Mathis), and newly acquired stepfather, Davis (David Aaron Baker). Indulged by his wealthy Jewish parents, who often leave him alone at home when they are off on their activities, Jacob lives for his personal world of comic books and horror movies, and does not seem to have any friends. Lately he has been haunted by a recurring nightmare that seems like a page out of the Anne Frank story. In the dream, a family of Jews is hiding out from the Nazis in the unfinished attic of someone’s home, probably in Belgium or the Netherlands. However, an SS officer has discovered the family and the price for his silence is regular sex with the young women living there, who he leads out of the attic on regular visits. This disturbing dream causes Jacob to wake up in the middle of the night screaming, and causing Isabel much distress. Instead of showing her son sympathy for his terrifying experiences, she angrily scolds him for interrupting her sleep. The next morning she tearfully tells Jacob that his maternal grandmother, whom he has never met, has just passed away. Isabel goes on to say that she was “a horrible woman” which is why she has kept her distance all of these years. Nevertheless, Isabel has collected all of the grandmother’s belongings and spread them out in their living room. The family then attends the grandmother’s funeral. After the service, a strange old woman pulls Jacob aside and tells him about her and his grandmother’s experiences during World War II and you realize that she and Jacob’s grandmother are the young woman in Jacob’s nightmare.
Jacob is fascinated with his grandmother’s clothing.
That evening Jacob and his parents attend a dinner party at the home of Davis’ boss Mr Holcomb (Robert John Burke). There he meets Christine Holcomb (Sterling Jerins) who is his age. Christine is quite sarcastic in her conversation at the dinner table, and when she and Jacob are excused, they talk a little in her room about various people who died in their families. She describes him as being “pretty”, while Jacob angrily replies, “No, I am a boy.” But the next scenes cast some doubt on his sexual orientation. He is fascinated with his grandmother’s clothing and belongings and enjoys wearing her long sleeved glove, which he takes with him to school in his backpack. When an older boy discovers it, Jacob is bullied and after the ensuing fight, is suspended from school for a week. At home he is told in no uncertain terms by his mother that he is to behave, not watch television, and work on his homework. Instead Jacob gets into his grandmother’s things again, trying on her dresses and dancing around to one of her tango records. But he is not careful about his new obsession and is discovered in drag by his stepfather. Although Davis tells Jacob that he didn’t tell his mother about this incident, his parents have arranged for a meeting with Dr. Sherman (Will Patton), who runs a small boarding school for problem children. Jacob is told he will be attending the boarding school for a semester after the holidays. His parents drive up to the school which is actually a palatial mansion located on an island in upstate New York. There they meet Mrs. Sherman (Tammy Blanchard) who explains to Jacob that Dr. Sherman is both the principal and teacher in the school.
Jacob and his parents arrive at the boarding school.
At the school, Jacob meets the other students. His roommate Phil (Nadia Alexander) at first freaks everyone else out because her face was completely burned and covered in scar tissue. There is Frederic (Christopher Dylan White) who has a severe case of Tourette Syndrome, uncontrollably blurting out swear words and suffering from facial spasms. Elwood (Nicholas J. Oliveri) is a very large boy and mentally challenged to the point where he likes to snort scrambled eggs up his nose. The twin brothers Lenny and Calvin (Kobi and Kadin George) don’t seem to have any major problems; later we discover that they were Indian boys adopted by Christian parents who don’t want them around anymore. Most surprising is the appearance of Christine from the dinner party, leaving the viewer to realize that there must have been some collaboration between Davis and his boss on placing their troubled children at the boarding school. Her issue is that her parents believe she killed one of her brothers. Quickly we learn that the school is not about education but rather total discipline and obedience. Dr. Sherman tells the students that everything is their fault, that they are despised by their parents and even God. Their only instructional materials are two textbooks and a bible. There is no outside contact permitted, and the students are strictly prohibited from leaving the school grounds. When smart-mouthed Christine gets out of line she is severely beaten with Dr. Sherman’s metal rod. Within a few more days, things get weirder, as students start to mysteriously die. Jacob becomes a leader in helping the other students to cope, but gradually the sinister purpose of the school becomes clear. At this point, Boarding School goes into full horror mode.
Jacob carrying his breakfast to the kid’s table.
One of the issues of the film is that there seems to be too many different themes going on in the story line, none of which seem to get followed through. Is the story about Jacob wanting become a transvestite in the image of this grandmother, or is it about spirits from the Holocaust seeking revenge? What ultimately happens to Jacob? Which inner personality ends up taking over? Is the story about the morals of parents abandoning their children who make their lives difficult or is it about revenge for familial murders? There certainly was room for a lot of expansion on these themes. While Luke Prael gives a captivating performance as the troubled Jacob, it does become a little difficult to believe that he can be so calm about his internal gender conflict, finding dead bodies, learning their secrets, and then having the ability to make life and death decisions all at the tender age of twelve. While Will Patton gives an appropriately cruel and scary performance as Dr. Sherman, his character could have a lot more depth to it, for example explaining why he would undertake such a mission in life. Furthermore, one has to wonder how he recruited his clients or how they would find out about him. That’s another unanswered question at the end of the bloody finish. Writer and director Boaz Yakin presents some interesting ideas and the film moves at a good pace, but ultimately he wrote himself into a corner with this material, which had more potential than its final result. As cinema, Boarding School is a horror movie with good production values, so if you like the genre you should enjoy this film at least once.
Dr. Sherman is telling the other students about Frederic’s death.
As Jacob and Christine are escaping from the house, the camera shows his black high top chucks.
Luke Prael as Jacob Felsen wears black high top chucks in all of the scenes where he is dressed as a boy. The cinemaphotography is chucks friendly in those scenes, and generally they are well-framed in the camera work. The best scene is when Christine convinces him to escape the mansion after Frederic is found dead in the shower. Another good scene is when Jacob is helping his roommate Phil place reflective stars on the ceiling of their room.
Jacob is assisting Phil in putting up his reflective stars on the ceiling.
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