What if Guy Maddin remade The Island of Dr. Moreau and it made it super gay? It’d probably be something like Bertrand Mandico’s The Wild Boys, which is an all-out unusual experience. Part coming-of-age narrative, part gay fantasia, part ripping sea yarn, the film follows a group of five boys who get out of hand and commit a terrible crime. A Dutch sea captain comes along and says he can reform them, so off they go on his boat and head for a mystical island with bewildering powers. Some of those powers lead to sexual gratification. Other powers lead to bodily transformation. If I say any more, I’ll take out all the fun and surprise of the endeavour, so I won’t. Just be prepared to marvel at how well Mandico pulls off some of his trickery, which is a vital part of the film’s success. And please don’t look at the IMDb page, either. Better yet, go into this knowing as little as possible.
The latter part of the film, which introduces the island and finds the characters exploring its mysteries, is the clear highlight here. The production design is superb and littered with hidden details. My advice: keep your eyes peeled in every corner of the screen, for you never know what you might spot. What comes before—the lengthy stay on the captain’s boat—is less involving, because the set is cramped and the action repetitive. Worse yet, the weather is made to be perpetually stormy, so much of this part of the film consists of rain battering the characters while they yell over each other. It’s also the portion that I think isn’t filmed as well as it ought to have been. On an aesthetic level, it doesn’t work when compared to the island material, and because it takes up so much of the film’s middle, the difference in quality is all too noticeable. Condensing this section would not have hurt the film in the least.
I won’t say that the section sinks the film (pardon the pun). It makes it messier and less involving, but once we get to the island, the transformational aspects of the story unfold in an irresistibly fable-like manner. It’s easy to forgive the film’s weaknesses at this point because of the payoff’s sheer audacity. Mandico leaves nothing on the table here, and for that I must give him credit. It doesn’t all work, but when it does, it’s something to behold.