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The Paperboy
(1994)

Director: Douglas Jackson  
Cast:
Alexandra Paul, Marc Marut, William Katt


I guess there is more good than evil in this world of ours, but the problem is that the evil in this world is sometimes so big and threatening that it seems like the world is bursting at the seams with evil. Over the years, I have on many occasions observed at a safe distance those people in the world who would be considered bad or downright evil. When I look at these people, more often than not they didn't suddenly turn bad or evil - the process that turned them to the dark side happened over a long period of time, starting with a seed within them that grew over the years. I know this all too well, having a close brush with someone like that. When I was going through school, there was this student my age - I'll call him "P.W." - that I felt from the start was heading to no good, so I tried to stay away from him. As the years went by, I witnessed various incidents concerning him that reinforced my feelings he was heading to a very undesirable fate. For example, when I was an adult and riding the bus one day, he was in the bus as well and I overheard him talking to someone about an illegitimate child he fathered and abandoned with the child's mother. Several years later, my mother sent me a clipping from her local newspaper and P.W. was in the news. Seems he and another fellow had staged a crude home invasion of sorts, and P.W. made a sandwich in the homeowner's kitchen while his friend beat the homeowner to death. The police had somehow tracked them down, and now they were facing serious jail time. I don't know what happened to P.W. from that point on - I tried searching for him online and didn't find one mention of him - but with him having made that fateful step to what would be considered bad and evil, he can't possibly be in a good spot now, and I hope our paths never cross again.

As I said in the first paragraph, most of the time when someone commits a heinous act, it comes after a long period of slipping into a frame of mind that makes one disregard looking out for their fellow man. But every once in a while, you come across someone committing an abominable act when a lot less time has passed. Specifically, I am talking about when it's a child who commits the repulsive act. I'm sure you have heard about isolated occurences of this in the news every so often, and I can tell you that it truly disturbs me when I read such reports. I'm sure it disturbs a lot of other people as well. So one may wonder why filmmakers haven't for the most part taken advantage of this to make movies with children committing criminal acts. If this subject matter instantly creeps out people, you might think filmmakers would take advantage of this to make a movie that instantly has a leg up on other movies meaning to scare people. Well, way back when I reviewed the killer child movie Daddy's Girl, I came up with a couple of theories. The first theory I had was that there aren't a lot of child actors who would be skilled enough to give a performance of this magnitude that would be both creepy and convincing. The second theory I had was that many people would think that the sight of a child committing sordid acts would be unintentionally amusing. Since reviewing that movie, I've thought of some other theories as to why filmmakers seem reluctant to show children in this dark light. One of them is that most adults who watch movies prefer to watch movies concerning themselves with adults - and I think there are a lot of minors out there who share the same taste when it comes to cinematic characters that catch their fancy.

Another new theory I have is that filmmakers may possibly be reluctant because they don't want a child actor to act out heinous acts because kids' minds are often very impressionable, and the adult filmmakers don't want to encourage a child to do something bad. Whatever the The Paperboyreasons might be, there are few movies with criminally-minded children - and even less that are also good movies. Recently, I found a used copy of The Paperboy, a movie that I remembered renting when it was first released on video and that I liked at the time. As you probably guessed, it deals with the idea of a criminally sick-minded child. I decided to watch it again to see if I would still have a favorable opinion of it. This Canadian production (though set in the United States) starts off by introducing us to single mother Melissa Thorpe (Paul, Baywatch) and her young daughter Cammie. Melissa gets word that her elderly mother has just passed away, so she and Cammie make the journey to attend the funeral and spend their summer vacation in Melissa's mother's home. Shortly after arriving, Melissa bumps into high school acquaintance Brian (Katt, The Greatest American Hero), and starts a relationship with him. Melissa also meets a twelve year old boy named Johnny (Marut), who lives next door and is the neighborhood paperboy. At first, Johnny seems like a nice boy, one who is eager to please and make friends. But as the days go by, Johnny's behavior starts to get more questionable, ranging from mowing Melissa's lawn at six o'clock in the morning to entering her home without permission to peel apples so she can bake Johnny an apple pie. It doesn't help things when Melissa hears from several other people in the neighborhood that they have personally witnessed other questionable behavior from Johnny. Eventually, Melissa realizes that Johnny is not quite right and bans him from her and her daughter's lives. But Melissa will eventually learn that Johnny is more disturbed and dangerous than she thinks...

If you have managed to see as many movies I have over the years that concern themselves with killer children, you have probably seen the same thing over and over when it comes to the portrayal of these murderous minors. That repetitive trait found in all those movies is that the killer children all come across as one hundred percent evil incarnate. There is no sign of humanity or compassion found in them - they are completed twisted in their feelings and thinking. While I suppose it's possible that in real life a child, under certain circumstances, could be like this, I think you would probably agree with me that this would be a rare exception, not the norm. A child has a young mind, and the circumstances that make someone psychotic usually take years to derange a mind. But as I said, filmmakers use the extreme example again and again. When I first sat down to watch The Paperboy, I expected to see this extreme example again. To my surprise, I found the movie make an honest effort to make the character of Johnny a multi-dimensional character. Yes, he is indeed shown to be a psychopath, but we get to see other sides of him that make him a character one that earns sympathy to a certain degree. We see that he has no friends, and is alone most of the time due to a deceased mother and a father who spends most of his time on the road as a salesman or at the golf course. We get to see Johnny cry on several occasions after various plans of his to endear him to Melissa do not work, and other times he calls himself stupid and other harsh words. Not only does this material make him into a fully fleshed-out character, it contributes to making the movie creepier. We see that Johnny is a child, and like many children doesn't have the maturity and wisdom of an adult. As a result, many times during the movie it is hard to predict what Johnny will do, and this makes us in the audience uneasy.

Another pleasant surprise I found with the movie was that the screenplay didn't stop with just Johnny in making characters that don't do the expected. When Johnny's long-absent father finally makes an appearance, you would probably expect him to be a hateful figure for neglecting Johnny enough that he has as sick a mind that he does. Instead, the movie shows that Johnny's father is a broken man, still devastated by the death of his wife years earlier and as a result can't relate normally to anyone, even his own son. I actually felt genuine sorrow for this character despite his neglect towards Johnny. Later in the movie, Melissa, after realizing Johnny is sick and is making sure she and her loved ones stay away from him, finds out Johnny was years earlier abused by his mother. Though she doesn't want Johnny's friendship anymore, she still has some feelings towards him that result in her being shocked and upset by this news, and subsequently makes an great effort to see that Johnny will get the professional care he so obviously needs. I found these actions of Melissa more believable (and human) than you usually find in a movie like this. Obviously, much of the reason that the characters of The Paperboy come across as more realistic and multi-dimensional than you typically find in a killer child movie - or most other horror movies for that matter - is thanks to screenwriter David Peckinpah (yes, a relative of Sam Peckinpah.) Even the old religious woman in the neighborhood who tells anyone who will listen that Johnny has "the mark of Cain" is given a chance to talk and explain her fears, so much so that when the inevitable scene comes when Johnny murders her, we are not filled with glee seeing a religious loudmouth crank getting bumped off. We instead see a poor old woman viciously killed, and we are filled with an uncomfortable feeling.

But it's not just thanks to the screenplay of The Paperboy that makes the characters come alive and come across as believable. A lot of this is thanks to the talented actors in the cast. There is not a false note in any of the performances - even William Katt does well, shaking off what you might remember of him from The Greatest American Hero. Special kudos, however, must go to Mark Marut playing the title figure. It must have been tough for a youth like him to give a performance full of different kinds of intensity, ranging from being too eager to please to feelings of a much darker nature, but he manages to pull it off. I'm sure part of this is thanks to director Douglas Jackson, who also puts a lot of care in other aspects of the movie. Though working with a low budget, he manages to make the entire enterprise look fairly polished, and manages to pass the Quebec locations off as American. He also avoids for the most part gratuitous elements such as graphic bloodshed (though there is some brief toplessness, possibly to make sure the movie would get an "R" rating), and instead just concentrates on making sure that the characters come to life on the screen. He seems to know that a believable situation with believable characters can be much scarier thas a fantasy slasher... most of the time. I say "most of the time", because in the last twenty or so minutes the movie kind of loses its way, with Johnny becoming more adult and brutal in his psychopathic behavior than you would expect from a child (even a sick-minded one), as well as adding stuff like explosions and man-to-man struggles, stuff you would expect from a brainless slasher movie. I much preferred the more human and down to earth seventy minutes that ran before those last twenty minutes. Still, there was definitely enough good stuff here that made me glad I watched the movie. In fact, while the movie ends at a reasonable point, I would have actually liked (if the movie could have rediscovered the right tone) the movie to have been longer! The characters of the movie interested me so much that I would have liked to have seen what they did next. If you are in the mood for a thriller that often does the unexpected, The Paperboy will do nicely.

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See also: Amityville Dollhouse, Clownhouse, Daddy's Girl

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