By Pascal Grenier (for Cinetalk.net)
At last available on Blu-Ray, just a few days ago, the infamous Sonny Boy is a unique and mesmerizing movie experience unlike anything you’ve seen. When it was released in 1989, two years after its making, movie theatres pulled the film after a few days of screenings and it was a failure at the box-office. A strange, at times surreal, coming-of-age movie, Sonny Boy build a strong cult-following over the years. It is hard to categorize it as it delves into multiple territories. I believe the relatively poor average rating on the internet movie database can be explain by its singularity that may offend some people.
In a Midwest town named Harmony (the film was shot in New Mexico), an estranged family of bandit finds a six-month old child on the back seat of a stolen car. At first, the father (played by Paul L. Smith in one of his typical villain role) wants to get rid of the child but his “transvestite wife” (David Carradine dressed in drag) prevents him.
Narrated by the title-character, the story is told through a series of flashbacks going into various stages of his animal-like growing childhood (the “foster father” cuts out his tongue as a birthday “gift of silence”) until he reaches 17. We find him living as a recluse (sort of like bastard-child -with- Terrence Malick meets John Waters’ outrageousness), walking like a hunchback covered in dirt and blood and forced into participating in the family’s heinous crimes. One day he decides to see the world and escapes from his offending parents. A world may be as cruel as the way he grew up…
An haunting and emotional tale, Sonny Boy is a Quasimodo-like, beautifully shot, thought-provoking film. Some may be revolted by the film’s nature and violent content, but although there’s graphic violence aplenty, some of its most disturbing aspects (cannibalism, child-abuse) are mostly restrained and suggestive. Despite being filled with grotesque characters and generously peppered with vulgar dialogues and absurd humor, the film pose an unusual and satirical look at American society.