I was surprised to see that the rating on IMDb is so relatively low (6.3 on the moment that I write this review), because in my opinion this is really an extraordinary film. It is visually beautiful, the story is very moving and the acting by the two main characters is top-notch. Maybe the low ratings are partly due to wrong expectations, when you look at the cover of this DVD, seeing kids with all kinds of creepy masks, you can easily think that it's some sort of horror movie and in that case you are bound to be disappointed, because this is mainly a coming-of-age movie. Important themes are coming to terms with the disappointments and feelings of guilt from one's childhood, accepting others who are different from you and - in short - friendship and bonding. And dealing with death, which - as we only come to understand in the very end - is a pertinent theme throughout the whole movie. It is amazing how director and writer Nicholas Verso succeeded in putting and visualizing all these in itself so potentially heavy themes in such a strong but at the same time accessible and compelling form as this movie.
Like in a classical Greek play the director uses unity of place, time and act: the whole story takes place in one night, Halloween (in Australia, so in a rather different atmosphere from the US Halloween), according to the settings somewhere in the early 2000's, no cell-phones etc. It involves only two main characters (and two supporting ones), all teens on that pivotal moment at the end of high school and on the brink of the life there-after. The central focus is on main character Corey, who goes through this "Werdegang" from non-involved hanger-on with his lousy (but loyal) group of friends to a more involved young adult, but with some new scars that he has to live with.
Director Verso pictures this Werdegang in the form of a magical tour, a mixture of reality, flash-backs and dream- and fantasy-like sequences, that seamlessly blend into each other. Corey is guided on this tour by Jonah, a young school-mate who is the (apparently) long-time victim of the bullies. As soon as Corey - in spite of himself - gets involved with Jonah, the victim takes the lead and in the ensuing nightly journey he takes Corey to places of their past as well as into dreamlike situations and landscapes (among others the trees that de title of the movie points at), that serve as metaphors for the points that Jonah wants to make, accompanied by his constant comments, alternately cynical, confronting or wise, at many times almost poetical. We gradually see Corey change from just being irritated to being intrigued and at last totally involved. In fact the same thing happens to us viewers, and gradually it dawns on us that Corey and Jonah share a past as childhood friends and that this friendship ended abruptly when Jonah underwent a major trauma and Corey turned his back on him.
I cannot praise the director enough for the way he handles all this: the beautiful scene in the illuminated tree, the Dia De Los Muertos sequence with the haunting song, the Romeo and Juliette-like scene when Corey, stimulated by Jonah, visits Romany, the girl he thinks he has a crush on, by climbing up to her balcony, it is al so beautifully filmed, so meaningful, poetical and just the opposite of heavy or melodramatic. It is only at the (almost) end of the movie that we find out what really happened this Halloween night and here Corey (and we) finally break - a deeply moving scene that moved me to tears.
The director provided a short epilogue-like sequence, I don't know if I needed that and as far as I'm concerned it raised new questions. Some years later we see Corey skyping with his friend Romany, he in NYC, she somewhere in Canada. Are they in a LAT-relationship? Corey (apparently being by now a professional photographer) says he is going to do some photoshoots in The Village. Is this a hint that maybe Corey has found out that he is gay?? In de movie there are some innuendos suggesting that at least Jonah might be in love with Corey and towards the end of their nightly journey they show more and more mutual affection. I guess the director wants us to draw our own conclusions.
As I said before, the acting of both main characters is top-notch. Gulliver McGrath as Jonah has the disadvantage of having his face painted as a Halloween-clown during a substantial part of the movie, so we miss-out on some of his facial expressions. But he still seems the perfect Jonah, on the outward the quintessential target of his bullying peers: small, androgynous and precocious, but on the other hand full of almost ancient wisdom.
The real star however (if I may use such a prosaic term in this kind of film) is Toby Wallace. He is absolutely great, his acting is so natural, he's extremely handsome and cute as a puppy with an entrancing smile, but he also and totally convincing shows all the emotions that Jonah evokes in him: amusement, irritation, bewilderment, fear, panic, grief and affection. Wallace has a huge screen-presence and it would very much surprise me if he didn't grow into a major film-star, hopefully with many off-mainstream productions like this one.
By the way: only by afterwards reading details of this production on IMDb I realized that I had seen Wallace before, actually in another production of director Verso, a short (dating 2014) that was part of the Boys on Film compilation series (# 11, to be exact), titled "The last Time I saw Richard". I remember it well, being impressed by the story and (again) by the acting and charisma of Wallace. That short movie is about the same character Jonah as in Boys in Trees, but in that case Wallace played the Jonah-character. That's kind of intriguing so I'm definitely going to watch that short again.
All in all: a heartfelt 10 out of 10 for movie, story and script, director and both actors. This is a definite must-see!!