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New Release Review - THE BOOK OF HENRY

the book of henry review
Following instructions left by her dead son, a woman attempts to kill her neighbour, a suspected child abuser.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow

Starring: Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, Lee Pace, Maddie Ziegler

the book of henry


If I told you the most sympathetic character in a movie was a man who we're told is sexually abusing his 12-year-old step-daughter, you might assume I was referring to the latest work of Todd Solondz, Michael Haneke or some other notorious provocateur. The director of the most recent Jurassic Park sequel and a future Star Wars installment, Colin Trevorrow, probably wouldn't be the first name that springs to mind.

The abuser in question, played by Dean Norris, is sympathetic not because he's portrayed that way by Trevorrow and screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz. The movie constantly TELLS us he's committing his horrific crimes. Trevorrow and Hurwitz want us to hate this guy, but we can't, because the movie never actually SHOWS us any evidence of his wrongdoing.


the book of henry

Instead, we're asked to take the word of 11-year-old Henry Carpenter (Jaeden Lieberher), who is convinced his neighbour, Christina (Maddie Ziegler), is being subjected to abuse at the hands of her evil stepdad, Glenn (Norris), who happens to be the local police commissioner. Henry claims Christina carries tell-tale bruises, and maybe he's right, but for some bizarre reason the movie never presents its audience with such evidence. All we see of Christina is a somewhat morose 12-year-old girl, whose mopey demeanour is consistent with 99% of her age group.

When Henry - who happens to be one of those immensely irritating child geniuses so beloved of Hollywood in recent years - snuffs it from a brain tumour, he leaves behind a book filled with instructions for his mother, Susan (Naomi Watts, now in serious danger of becoming the female Nic Cage, given her increasingly disastrous choices of roles) on how to murder Glenn. Though the book resembles the manifesto of a future serial killer, Susan immediately begins following her dead son's orders, purchasing a rifle and some trendy nighttime commando threads.


the book of henry

There came a point in The Book of Henry where I began to wonder if Trevorrow and Hurwitz weren't playing some clever trick on the audience, and that their film was perhaps a slyly smart updating of The Searchers, with an antihero determined to save someone who may not actually want saving. Such speculation was fuelled by the film's ambiguous attitude to Christina, a character everyone is obsessed with rescuing, yet nobody thinks to ask her if anything untoward is occurring.

Not since the heyday of Michael Winner's Death Wish series has a mainstream movie asked its audience to engage in such a level of misanthropy and mistrust of authority. The film takes place in a Randian vision of a dystopian America, where those in power can't be trusted, even those in the care industry, and the only solution is to take up arms and kill your neighbour, even if you have no evidence of their crimes. It's also remarkably regressive in its portrayal of a single mother, with Susan relying on her 11-year-old son (who, in one of the film's most insultingly convenient twists, manages to amass her a huge fortune on the stock market) to keep her life together. Heaven forbid he didn't leave behind his sociopathic journal and dictaphone - she may fall apart completely. Luckily there's a hunky doctor waiting in the wings, ready to swoop in and fill the gaping male void in her life.


the book of henry

The Book of Henry is awful, but it's uniquely awful, a film that will likely find a future life as the subject of screenwriting classes and drunken midnight screenings. If I give it a mere half star it's because I can't find a single positive word to say about it. That said, I've never told a reader not to see a movie, and I'm not about to start now. Art should challenge our sensibilities every now and then, and if The Book of Henry has anything to contribute to the world, it's in reminding us that some people still refuse to buy into the idea of 'innocent until proven guilty'. If you're among that group, Trevorrow's film may well play as a perfectly adequate thriller. But for those of us (I hope we're in the majority) who believe in such trifles as evidence and due process, and refuse to view those employed to take care of us with default suspicion, this is the most wrong-headed movie we'll see this year, perhaps even this decade.

The Book of Henry is in UK/ROI cinemas June 23rd.



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