There is literally no way to talk about this movie without spoilers, but trust me, you need to know.
There’s a point during this movie where I definitely lost the potential of making friends in the theater. At a point that was either 40 minutes in or halfway to the end of eternity, The Book of Henry’s titular Henry (Jaeden Liberher) dies.
Keep in mind, the death of a main character is a difficult thing for any movie to pull off. You’re essentially asking an audience to side with someone and find more meaning in their death than in their continued life. That’s why disease weepies are never really about the person dying. But still, if you’re going to kill off the person the movie is about, you have to earn it, make sure there is some deeper meaning.
Up until this point, Henry has basically been a cartoon character, a caricature of intelligence that only ever exists in the contrived imagination of hack screenwriters. Endearing because the filmmakers shove your face in him and force your acclimation.
So, of course, he’s killed 40 minutes into the movie. In a long, overly hard-to-watch sequence. Because that’s earned. Because that’s exactly what the movie needs. Because it doesn’t just feel like a puppet master making you dance on your strings.
It’s not just that he died that likely made the lovely couple next to me look askance. It’s that this character who the filmmakers are trying to force us to love dies in a FUCKING PIETA POSE IN THE ARMS OF HIS MOTHER. Oh, are you unfamiliar?
IT’S ALMOST EXACTLY LIKE THIS. THAT’S RIGHT. OUR PRECOCIOUS FUCKING SHERLOCK DIES LIKE THE LORD AND SAVIOR OF ALL HUMANITY. Which is of course when I started repeatedly muttering “fuck you” under my breath.
Now, this may seem minor and unfocused. But it’s exactly the problem with The Book Of Henry, exactly the reason why this is so ABSOLUTELY fucking awful as a film, exactly the reason that director Colin Trevorrow is having his head put on a pike over this one.
The Book of Henry is such a fundamentally awful movie because The Book Of Henry doesn’t want to earn a goddamned thing from you. It pulls your strings at every turn and pushes and pulls and manipulates rather than actually drawing or fleshing out any of the decisions it makes. There are skilled filmmakers who can do that, but without that ability, not a turn is justified and what is laid bare is a movie fundamentally bizarre and off-putting. Too dark for its whimsy, too whimsical for its darkness.
Up until the death of Henry, it’s been something of an all-too-whimsical family movie. A supernaturally intelligent young boy runs the house while his mother Susan (Naomi Watts) follows his every instruction and works a day job to keep a little bit of normality around. There’s also a younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) around to be cute I guess.
Before his death, Henry also begins to take interest in a tragedy happening right next door. Christina (Maddie Ziegler) is being sexually abused by her step-father Glenn (Dean Norris), who is also the powerful and well-respected Police Commissioner.
After Henry’s death, Henry leaves behind a book for his mother with a detailed plan to kill Glenn. So, that’s the back half of this movie.
No description is quite so bizarre as seeing it unfold though. Nothing can quite convey the jarring tonal shifts, the supernatural abilities Henry is gifted with that defy even the basic tenants of narrative logic (how does he sneak out when we see the systems go off another time? In what world can a child’s reactions see that far ahead?), Sarah Silverman’s boob tattoo, or the fact that the movie may end with HENRY’S ASHES BEING SPREAD OVER A TALENT SHOW AUDIENCE.
Not for sure. It’s implied.
Now to be sure, much of this can be attributed to the script. Gregg Hurwitz’s script attempts to plot out four different films in genre and tone and narrative and manages to bungle the transition between every single one of them. The structure is collapsed at every moment, reading something like the overly ambitious try of a Sophomore in a Screenwriting class.
All of that was possible to navigate, or at least reorient, was it not for the captain at the helm. My feelings on Jurassic World were decidedly negative and much of it was for reasons that, after seeing this movie, become increasingly apparent should be laid squarely at the feet of Colin Trevorrow.
In another era, Trevorrow would be a salesman of elixirs, ran out of town each step by angry folk who realize his remedies don’t work. He’s not just a hack, he’s a huckster and a clumsy one at that.
The Book Of Henry collapses on his total inability to actually tell a story or sell an image. Rather, every moment is a naked manipulation, an unearned push-in or moment of whimsy. He has nothing to say, so his directorial style is to push reactions to hope that you never notice how bad our soulless or wrong what he’s doing is.
It’s the instinct that wallpapered over a brutal murder of a woman who’d done nothing wrong by bringing back an old franchise stalwart or blaring the Jurassic Park theme song. It’s not that he’s uninterested in compassionate or human storytelling, it seems that he’s fundamentally incapable of it but is so absolutely manipulative that he’s somehow managed to fail upward, each film he’s made steadily worse than the last.
Which bodes well for STAR WARS EPISODE IX: HOLY SHIT THIS THING IS FUCKED.
I wish there was something redemptive here, some shard of hope to pull from the wreckage and hold onto. There isn’t. The actors are playing characters animated largely from scraps of ideas and stitched together. There are no human reactions because there is no sense of what humanity is in this film, just raw attempts at stimulating nerve reactions.
The Book Of Henry irritates me so much because it’s the worst instinct of America filmmaking. It’s all reaction, all forgettable emotion sweeping you along through errant action. This is a bad film being pushed by a conman. No amount of Jacob Tremblay’s tears should have you forget that.