Colin Trevorrow’s latest is a detestable, embarrassing effort, and a very serious contender for the worst film of 2017.
How do you solve a problem like The Book of Henry? How is it that Colin Trevorrow, responsible for massive blockbusters Jurassic World and the forthcoming Star Wars Episode IX, is behind this? Why on earth are Academy Award nominated Naomi Watts and future superstar Jacob Tremblay involved in this? To make such a diabolically toxic film like The Book of Henry with a group of unknowns and a minuscule budget is understandable. But with a film with a pedigree like this one, its unforgivable.
Jaeden Lieberer plays 11-year-old Henry, who lives in a beautiful house with his mother Susan (Naomi Watts) and younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay). The film constantly reminds us that he’s just a child, which is probably because The Book of Henry tries to contradict this at every turn. In one of the first scenes, he rants about an existential crisis for a class presentation. He is seen buying stocks, taking care of his mothers finances (who has a staggering amount of wealth and works in a diner) and essentially acting as the adult of the house. This is especially obvious, because the film shows Susan constantly playing video games (Naomi Watts has evidently never played one before, and nobody bothered to show her how somebody actually holds a controller) which is a wonderfully lazy way to suggest somebody is irresponsible.
“He’s a genius!”, an explanation the audience is bludgeoned with, which apparently explains the above actions, as well as his rube goldberg machine obsession and extensive medical knowledge that doctors spend their life studying. It is one of the films many efforts to glaze over something instead of taking any time to explore. Regardless, none of these characteristics explain Henry’s noxious attitude. Henry is one of the most obnoxious children in film (Lieberer does the best he can, delivering the schlocky dialogue admirably). He storms into his Principal’s office, talks down to anyone he can, chastises his mother and carries himself with such an air of elitism that an 11-year-old simply is not capable of.
In terms of plot specifics, I won’t ruin it for you, because if I explained it here, you wouldn’t believe me anyway. The Book of Henry manages to blend saccharine cancer drama, child abuse and revenge thriller into such an unpalatable concoction that it has to be seen to be believed. Not that I recommend you spend your hard earned money to do so, but perhaps the only thing the film has going for it is that you really have never seen anything quite like it. Unfortunately, there’s a reason for that.
The Book of Henry seems to writhe in discomfort. Nothing really makes sense, and almost nothing is justified. The screenplay feels as if it made it to the shoot without a single revision. You can tell there are some good ideas in there, and if it went through some considerable rewrites there might be something genuinely affecting to be found. Perhaps my hatred for this film is off-base – the audience I saw it with did seem to be manipulated effectively (and boy, is this film ever manipulative), with sounds of gasping and sniffling in all the ‘right’ places.
How is it that this film even got made? The talent both behind and in front of the camera is all there, but it has all come together into one of the worst films I have ever seen. Yet, there is something rewarding in its utter dreadfulness, and if you want to cackle at scenes that are supposed to make you cry, and sit in a confounding distress for its 105-minute runtime, this is for you. If you really want to experience it, I suggest going as quickly as you can: this disaster will not be in cinemas for much longer.
The Book Of Henry is out in cinemas now.