With Halloween just around the corner, The Nature of Nicholas contends for a spot at the table.
Released in 2002, the LGBTQ2S+ themed film explores the life of a young boy named Nicholas, his strained relationship with his mother, the haunting of his father’s ghost, and his attraction towards his best friend Bobby.
Though I wouldn’t strictly categorize the film as horror, I also wouldn’t recommend it as a family-friendly film. There are a few parts in the film that can be surprisingly graphic for a movie released in 2002, but otherwise there aren’t a ton of jump scares or other spooks.
Instead, the film explores the relationship of Nicholas with his external environment in an absurdist way, which makes for an uncomfortable and slightly unsettling film. For example, after Nicholas kisses his friend Bobby, a zombified version of his friend appears in his room. The zombified version of his friend blames Nicholas for making him this way, but also blames Nicholas for not taking care of him.
In a way, this slightly-gross, slightly-fake-looking (after all, it’s a 2002 film!), zombified version of Bobby is both a manifestation of Nicholas’ guilt and Bobby’s desires. Nicholas’ guilt towards his friend as a growing pain of a child exploring his sexuality and romantic interests manifests as this absurdist creature. Therein lies the “creepy” factor of this movie. Not only is the zombie a bit unsettling to look at, but the hanging guilt is suffocating throughout the movie.
Aside from this, Nicholas also has to deal with his father’s ghost following him around. Nicholas’s relationship with his mother is quite strained, but the movie doesn’t reveal when this started. All we know is that his mother is in a relationship with a new man, who Nicholas doesn’t feel ecstatic about. Throughout the movie, this man also constantly asks Nicholas if he has a girlfriend, thus pressuring him to answer a bit vaguely. In some ways, he is an enduring pillar of a heteronormative society that is Nicholas’ real life horror story.
The movie itself is shot in a very retro and nostalgic-looking way. Its grain surprisingly supports the childhood-feel of growth, rather than reflecting the look of an outdated older movie. Besides that, the movie is shot in the Canadian prairies, and the wide expanses of land are alienating — something that helps the movie establish its tone very well.
The Nature of Nicholas is a film that feels deeply familiar. Even before knowing the movie was shot close to home, its exploration of childhood confusion, LGBTQ2S+ themes, and somewhat bittersweet resolution are aspects of life many of us are closely acquainted with. It’s interesting to see a movie explore these themes in a way that presents these challenges as horrors, and not as a delightful hurdle towards a well-defined “better end.”
After watching, I definitely had to mull over the movie for a while. This coming of age story is definitely not one to miss and its touch of horror and suspense is perfect for getting viewers in the Halloween mood.
A 2K remastered version of The Nature of Nicholas is playing at the Metro Cinema on October 17 at 9:30 p.m.