Boys in the Trees (2016)
On Halloween 1997, two estranged teen skaters embark on a surreal journey through their memories, dreams and fears.
It's Halloween 1997 - the last night of high school for Corey, Jango and their skater gang, The Gromits. Childhood is over and adult life beckons. But for Corey, his past has some unfinished business. When he encounters Jonah, a former childhood friend but now victimized by Jango's cruel streak, Corey takes pity on him and agrees to walk him home for old time's sake. What starts off as a normal walk through empty suburban streets descends into something darker and magical as they tell each other ghost stories, drawing upon their fears of the world around them. As they walk through their memories and ghosts of the past, Corey is surprised to discover how much he still has in common with his abandoned friend. But on the night of the grave's delight, even the most buried truths will find a way of coming to life.
- The film opens as Corey, an aspiring photographer, snaps pictures of people who perform board tricks at a skate park. After his friend Jango, the leader of their group, does a trick that he dubs the 'money shot,' a boy named Jonah accidentally collides with him. Jango punches Jonah to the ground and screams that he's unwelcome at the park. The other boys join in and taunt Jonah, and Corey reluctantly snaps a photograph of Jonah as he sits on the ground with a bloodied nose. Jonah runs away in fear.
The boys go to Corey's home, where his father is playing music and trying to fix his printer. Corey expresses disinterest in spending time with his father, and he also reveals that he wants to go to New York to study photography. His father disapproves of his wanting to study photography, but Corey dismisses this.
While discussing their plans for Halloween that evening, Jango expresses discontentment with Corey's desire to leave and go to New York, and the two have an argument. Corey ends the discussion by saying it was just an idea, and he trashes his letter from and application for school in New York to appease Jango. Corey goes to a photo-development dark room in his house to be alone with his photography; Jango comes to the room to make amends, and the two reconcile after Jango complements Corey's work and suggests that they photocopy the image of Jonah with a bloody nose. Corey accepts, and he and the rest of the boys go out into the neighborhood dressed in masks. They vandalize people's homes with tissue paper, throw dye bombs at trick-or-treating children, and paste the embarrassing pictures of Jonah all across their town. At Jango's urging, Corey hurls a bloody crow's carcass at Jonah's window. Corey encounters a girl named Romany, with whom he briefly flirts before continuing on with Jango and his friends.
Meanwhile, Jonah spends the first part of the evening alone at an outcropping of rocks next to a stream with a sewer-like tunnel underneath it. Shots of his left arm reveal slash marks, indicating that he may have either engaged in self-harm or previously attempted suicide. He drops a bottle of alcohol that he brought with him and begins walking on rocks to cross the stream.
Corey, Jango, and their friends take turns smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol around a campfire. Corey goes off to be alone, discontent with it all, and Romany follows him. She chides him for the picture of Jonah and derides his decisions to spend time with Jango and his friends. Jango enters and offers a toke to Romany, which she reluctantly accepts in keeping with the party scene. Corey leaves his friends in the woods and begins taking down the pictures of Jonah. He eventually arrives at the skate park, where he finds Jonah skating alone.
Romany is the next to leave the group in the woods, saying she has to go to work, and Jango and the others reluctantly leave as well.
Jonah is frightened upon seeing Corey and loses his balance while skating, falling to the ground and banging his head. Corey rushes to his aid, and Jonah fakes passing out as a joke. Corey makes a snarky comment about Jonah's deceased mother but quickly apologizes after realizing that he's hurt Jonah's feelings. To make it up to him, Corey agrees to walk Jonah home and reminisce on how they used to be friends.
Jonah takes Corey to the tunnel under the streams from earlier and tells the story of two sisters who dreamed of having valiant 'knights' save them. The sisters grew apart after the older one began to catch the attention of boys and, it is implied, started to explore sexual pleasures with them. The younger sister wandered into the dark tunnel in which Corey and Jonah currently stand and, by some means, became a disembodied ghost unaware of her own fate. The boys leave the tunnel; unbeknownst to them, a man dressed in white appears and walks to the tunnel's edge.
Meanwhile, Jango is at the skate park and asks another of his friends to take his photo as he performs a skate trick, but the friend is more preoccupied with kissing a girl he's just met. Jango is hurt by this but refuses to show weakness and suggests they go 'hunting.'
Corey and Jonah continue their trek, passing a house that used to scare them as kids. Corey refuses to go inside, but Jonah hurls Corey's skateboard over the fence, forcing Corey to go inside after it. Jonah tells the story of a boy named Edward, who 'ruled' over the trees and nature and who made an oath to explore shadows and darkness. As he grew older, however, he began shutting out the darkness and all things that scared him. Jonah says the price of growing up is losing one's dreams and that forgotten dreams can be vengeful; that's why he doesn't ever want to grow up. Jonah convinces Corey to explore the house, but then he yells, "Trick or Treat!" and scares Corey away. Corey is enraged and prepares to leave and go home another way, but Jonah convinces him to keep walking together.
Jango and his friends begin biking around town and vandalizing various Halloween attractions, Jango trying his best to appear to be having fun as he searches for Corey.
Corey and Jonah climb to the rooftop of their old high school and visit a brood of dying birds that Jonah says he likes to visit and 'keep company' because 'no one should die alone.' Corey and Jonah share personal struggles-Corey mentioning the passing of his dog, and Jonah talking about the death of his mother. Jonah speculates that being alone is preferable to needing people to rely on, while Corey believes the opposite and enjoys having people for support. Leaving the roof, both boys enter the main school building, and Jonah reflects on his difficulty being bullied in high school as he and his classmates entered puberty. Jonah suddenly disappears, leaving Corey alone in the hallway. Corey hides when he hears other students (revealed to be Jango's gang) enter the building and runs to the library, where he encounters Jonah. Jonah and Corey witness Jango and his friends' vandalizing school property but are overheard by the group. Corey uses Jonah's mask to scare Jango's group away, allowing him and Jonah to escape unidentified.
Jonah and Corey continue their walk home, and Corey reveals that a girl named Laura Premble was the first girl he "fooled around with" but implies that they parted ways as a result of her heavy drinking. Jonah and Corey sing a song from when they were younger and then go to a store to get some food. Romany is at the store working the graveyard shift, and she and Corey talk for a moment about their lives, Corey implying that he feels guilty for deserting Jonah in favor of the popularity afforded by spending time with Jango and his friends. Romany finally screams that she wishes Corey and the other boys would grow up, to which Corey replies that they do want to grow up but also don't want to stop enjoying their youth. Jango and his friends enter the store, Jango revealing that he's been searching for Corey. Jonah leaves the store and hides, then disappears altogether after he sees Corey laughing together with Jango. Jango reveals to Corey that he and his friends vandalized Jonah's mother's tombstone at the cemetery and would like Corey to photograph it. Corey refuses to be cruel, and he and Jango fight. Romany discretely calls the police from behind the store's checkout counter. Jango is apologetic after knocking Corey to the floor, but Corey refuses his apology and leaves.
Corey goes to Jonah's home and cleans the vandalism from earlier, including the tissue paper in the trees and the bloody crow carcass on the window. Corey returns to his own house, fed up with the night, and retrieves the letter from New York from his trash can. He contemplates whether to begin the application and then thinks back to his friendship with Jonah when they were younger. Corey returns to the sewer to find Jonah, and the two reconcile. They vandalize Jango's home using eggs and tissue paper.
Corey then visits Romany and apologizes to her, and the two kiss and have sex. Romany confides that she's leaving for Canada and thinks Corey should leave their town as well. The two promise to leave together. After sealing the promise with a kiss, Corey returns to the streets to look for Jonah.
Corey comes across a Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) ceremony that appears to be being held for Jonah and his mother. Though Jonah's photograph is printed and he seems to be being honored as one of the dead, he is also in attendance at the ceremony. The man dressed in white appears again and sings as Corey tells Jonah they should leave; Jonah flees. Shadow creatures, possibly hallucinations, follow Corey as he pursues Jonah. Corey wants to know who the man was, to which Jonah replies cryptically that he does not know. Jonah begins to cough and vomits clear liquid as the mysterious man in white appears again. More shadow creatures appear as well and chase Corey and Jonah briefly before surrounding them. Corey saves them both using his lighter and a smoke flare to drive the creatures away. The two then run to a tree containing seemingly infinite lights, a tree under which many of the toys of their childhood are present. Jonah spots the man in white again and suggests that they go higher in the tree to evade him.
As they climb, the two friends share a memory: one Halloween, Corey and Jonah dressed up and ran through the tunnels looking for adventure. They encountered two older boys who attacked them (the boys in this flashback are the same as those in Jonah's story about the sisters who grew apart, implying that the earlier story might have been a psychologically protective restructuring of this horrible and traumatic memory). Corey managed to escape but left Jonah behind; Jonah was subsequently molested by the boys, and Corey refused to speak to him out of shame and embarrassment for leaving him. As the two finish reflecting on the memory, Corey wishes things could have ended differently and says that Jonah was his real friend.
The two go to the same stream from earlier. Corey apologizes for leaving, and Jonah says their night spent together kind of made up for it. Jonah then vanishes after pointing Corey's attention to a body floating in the nearby river. Corey recognizes the body as Jonah's; it is revealed that Jonah's ghost has been talking with Corey and that the real Jonah committed suicide earlier that evening. Corey tearfully tries calling his father, who is asleep with headphones covering his ears and thus unable to hear the call. Jango, meanwhile, is brought to tears by the loss of Corey as his friend and ransacks his own bedroom out of rage.
The police are alerted to Jonah's death, as is Corey's father, who tells him the police are saying that Jonah must have been in the water since the late afternoon-and that he must have fallen and hit his head while crossing the stream. Corey reconnects with his father and says he'd like to go to fishing on the lake with him that weekend. Jango and his gang arrive to comfort Corey, Jango being the first to come to his side. Jango gives Corey his camera, which he left at the store. Corey begins to cry, and he and Jango embrace, reconciling. Jango's friends remove their masks out of respect for the two friends and in reverence of Jonah's death.
A year later, Corey has moved to New York, and Romany to Canada. The two videochat on Halloween, and it is revealed that Corey has retained Jonah's old mask and puppets as keepsakes. The film closes as Corey dons the mask and enters the streets of New York, ready to celebrate Halloween.