Altar Boys is used with permission from Thomas Steele. Learn more at https://youtube.com/@thomassteele8432.
Ryan and Danny are two altar boys called to duty when their scatterbrained local priest must officiate at a funeral. Despite the solemnity of the occasion, the pair are still teenage boys. When they’re tasked with retrieving the priest’s Bible from his house before the service, they manage to goof off anyway, chatting about Frankenstein, dating girls and playing Halo while ambling the way.
When they come across a dangerous object at the priest’s house, they get up to some mischief that verges on a serious mistake. But as the occasion of the funeral nears and the realization that it’s for someone they know begins to sink in, their thoughts turn to death, mortality and what it means to live.
Directed and written by Thomas Steele, this comedy short is a deceptively modest slice-of-life portrait of two young teen boys, capturing their oscillation between mindless hijinks and serious reflection. Like its young protagonists, the film combines juvenile swagger and unexpected philosophical exploration, all drenched in a sun-soaked naturalism that feels both specific and timeless at once.
Opening with Ryan and Danny wrestling in the church and being upbraided by Father Preston, the storytelling quickly lays down its key circumstances — a funeral for a classmate of theirs — before being sent to retrieve a Bible for the priest. As goofballs, the two friends manage to turn what is supposed to be an uneventful errand into an epic dawdle full of raucous talk, jokes, ribbing and the general aimless patois of a certain stripe of teenager.
But the playful dialogue also captures hints of emotional depth, as the pair circle around bigger topics like death and the afterlife. It’s clearly on their minds, thanks to the sudden death of someone their age that they knew, but they shy away from the subject matter. Instead, they goof off, which takes a more serious turn when they rob a fireworks stand. What’s meant to be a joke has the potential to turn into something more serious, though they manage to carry off the prank without serious immediate consequence.
As Ryan and Danny, actors Cooper Holmes and Caleb Mihill have an unpretentious naturalism and ease, capturing how they exist in the here and now, without much thought for the future or the past. But when their brush with potential violence seems to focus and intensify their underlying emotions, they finally can face their peer’s death and reflect on what it means for their own lives.
By the conclusion of "Altar Boys," we’re pretty sure as viewers that Ryan and Danny will be altar boys no longer after the hijinks of the afternoon. But their final act in the narrative shows that their brush with death and mortality has caused them in some tangential way to reflect on mortality, death and where we go after we die. They pay tribute in their own inimitable way to their friend’s passing, with perhaps more sincerity and feeling than they would have at the "official" event — and with an acceptance of life’s transience that marks their coming-of-age.
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2 altar boys talk about death, girls and Halo while running an errand for a funeral. | Altar Boys
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