Scarlett and her husband William are a middle-aged couple grappling with a serious loss: their beloved little boy, Henry, is gone. But the pair have decidedly different ways of dealing with their feelings of pain: the mother still clings to the past, while the father barrels ahead, as if in denial of what has happened to their family.
Despite the advice of their family therapist, Scarlett is drawn to their son's bedroom -- now closed off to them, upon the advice of their family therapist. As she spirals out of control, she must confront the ghosts of her memories.
Written and directed by Sarah Polhaus, this emotionally compelling short horror film begins with a cerebral chill, laying out scenes of growing domestic discontent as the couple in question deal with a recent loss. Like many horror films, the storytelling is impeccably crafted. The precise use of cool, muted color with uneasy camera angles and movement emphasize disassociation, and an often dissonant, atonal score underlies usually placid images of middle-class suburbia. Something is distinctly off in this quiet enclave, and Scarlett and William's home seems especially haunted by the unseen presence of their son.
The pace is deliberate, drawing us into the mindscape of Scarlett as she navigates a world without her little boy. She is unmoored, and constantly looks over old pictures of her son as a child, unable to let young Henry go in her heart. There are no jump scares here: the feeling is of a chilly, overhanging dread. Small touches of humor are sprinkled throughout, but as the precise writing and pacing proceed, the gulf between Scarlett and William widens, and Scarlett's handle on her emotions begins to go awry.
Playing a couple increasingly at odds with one another, actors Lisa Roumain-Smith and David Rees Snell both underplay their grief, particularly as they both try to move through their daily lives without the presence of their young child. William gets rid of his son's old childish belongings, which upsets Scarlett. As Scarlett spirals, the film builds to a weighty crescendo and an overt conflict -- one that draws forth an important truth in this now fractured family.
Precisely crafted and in supreme command of its tone and atmosphere, "The Boy's Gone" offers a sensitive, perceptive portrait of grief and parenthood, establishing how loss can haunt and shape us in different ways, even as we try to move forward. But the last moments upend this perspective -- not exactly overturning it, but spinning it in a new direction. It will evoke recognition from those familiar with the horror at the heart of the story -- and perhaps even the relief of solidarity. As the therapist himself says in the film's beginning, "Shared experience is a power tool."