Film Screening Boneyard challenges horror genre cliches

Kingston-made film uses classic elements of horror to create new twists 

Credit: 
Photo supplied by Brent Nurse

On Sunday night, Kingston filmmakers Brent Nurse and Steven Spencer revealed their latest film Boneyard at The Screening Room. 

Boneyard is a horror/thriller that appeared at both the FearNYC Film Festival and the Kingston Canadian Film Festival in 2017. Working with both a low budget and a small cast, Nurse and Spencer’s original twist on horror clichés turns the film into a hidden gem. 

The movie tells the story of Doctor David Morrison and his wife Jane, played by actors Jason Bowen and Helen van Bretzke respectively. The two flee to an old farmhouse in an attempt to avoid reporters after the doctor is accused of assaulting one of his university students.

His wife soon discovers The Boneyard behind the house, a section of the forest where human bones hang from the trees like decorations. 

As the tension grows and the couple becomes distrustful of each other, Jane begins to have horrific visions and starts to question  her own understanding of reality. 

Nurse and Spencer use the first half of the film to set the audience up for what appears to be a basic horror movie plotline: a family moves to an old farmhouse and is targeted by a mysterious evil presence which inevitably turns them against each other. 

The screenwriter purposefully used the lack of originality in the film’s introduction and use of popular clichés to their advantage. 

The result of  combining flickering lights, ghostly images and so much more creates a safety net that leads the audience to expect a linear plot and a predictable resolution.   

However, these clichés strengthen the complexity of the plot that later unfolds unexpectedly in the second half of the film. Nurse and Spencer bring the audience to the very edge of a happy ending before utterly quashing it. 

The Boneyard’s dark ruler — a supernatural entity who manipulates time and causes both Jane’s frightening visions and David’s madness — is kept ambiguous throughout most of the film, successfully adding to the suspense and depth of the plot.

Nurse and Spencer keep this source mysterious by inviting the audience to question Jane’s sanity and stability, revealing she has a growth on her brain that may be producing her visions. 

The audience is led even further from the truth when the allegations of sexual abuse against David are admitted to be false, seeming to secure his innocence. The plot, however, is difficult to understand until the film’s final scenes. 

In a Q&A following the film, Spencer discussed his struggles avoiding the temptation to spell out the meaning of the plot within the film — a risk that paid off.

“We set ourselves a bunch of challenges when we started, and one of them was that we have this incredibly high-minded concept that’s incredibly complex, and then never have anybody explain it,” Spencer said.

Although Boneyard’s secluded setting and family tension is reminiscent of Stephen King’s novel The Shining, Nurse said the film was influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.   

Psycho does a big flip,” he said. “It starts off as a woman running away, and all of a sudden we flip [and] it’s completely different. That was part of [Spencer’s] motivation. We wanted to flip the movie on its head halfway through.”

While the film’s high amount of dramatic facial close-ups was distracting, the unique cinematography of the sunlit Boneyard was an overshadowing example of haunting creativity. 

Despite Bowen’s inadequate performance of his character’s transformation, van Bretzke’s ability to translate fear and emotion to the audience balanced out Bowen’s poor acting, adding to the film’s success. 

All of the film’s shortcomings, like Bowen’s unconvincing acting, poor lighting and some clumsily — filmed shots, were saved by the ingenious manipulation of time and audience expectations. Spencer’s experimental screenwriting challenges the audience and rewards it with his imagination and talent for writing psychological horror. If the screenplay was complemented by a higher budget,  it would create a superb addition to the horror genre.

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