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Review: ‘The Boy in the Woods’ is a discreet tale of defiance

‘The Boy in the Woods’ is the true story of a Jewish child that survived in the woods for a year during WWII

A scene from 'The Boy in the Woods'
A scene from 'The Boy in the Woods' courtesy of Photon Films
A scene from 'The Boy in the Woods' courtesy of Photon Films

‘The Boy in the Woods’ is the true story of a Jewish child that survived in the woods for a year during World War II.

Tales of surviving a war, particularly the Holocaust, are almost always harrowing as it requires significant effort… and a lot of luck. Those who make it through do not emerge unscathed, often suffering many losses. Yet, they live to tell their tale, which they share with the world to acknowledge those who were lost, as well as those who helped them remain alive. Allies and sympathisers also assumed a lot of risk, resulting in a variety of reasons they might have been willing to aid a Jew hiding from the Nazis. In The Boy in the Woods, a youth repeatedly narrowly escapes capture near the end of the war.

When Max (Jett Klyne), his mother and younger sister are rounded up for deportation by the Nazis, he leaves to meet an aunt who finds him a place to hide. The farm is run by a small family — husband (Richard Armitage), wife and baby — who conceal Max in plain sight as a visiting relative. But nosey neighbours and regular visits by the Gestapo (Christopher Heyerdahl) become too risky, so after teaching the boy some basic skills, the farmer instructs him to live in the adjacent woods. There, he eventually meets another orphaned boy, Yanek (David Kohlsmith), and they try to survive together, avoiding the Jew hunters vying for rewards.

Based on Montreal’s Maxwell Smart’s memoir, this is an expectedly solemn tale about a 12-year-old boy who knows his situation is dire, but refuses to let its gravity set in — a common defence mechanism, even if he doesn’t know it. Instead, Max fights to survive in the hopes of seeing his family again when the Russians finally liberate his homeland. Finding Yanek gives Max new purpose, guiding the boy’s survival and regaling him with stories of a Golem that could save them from this nightmare. The woods are full of dangers, from poisonous food to men with guns, tracking Jews in hiding. The forest is an isolating setting, but also a place the boys can play and let loose their imaginations.

Based on a true story, the movie ends with an epilogue first describing Max’s fate, then actually showing him as the elderly man that built a life as an artist in Canada after the war — living to old age in spite of the Nazis best efforts to ensure he and so many others didn’t. There’s no big special effects or war scenes, as this is a story that takes place away from the frontlines. But it’s still a tale of survival as the fight kept coming to Max. It’s also an English-language film, in spite of unfolding in modern-day Ukraine, which should make it more accessible to a wider audience.

Director: Rebecca Snow
Starring: Jett Klyne, Richard Armitage and Christopher Heyerdahl

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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