Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Runt is an exceptionally well-made drama, but above all else, it serves as a reminder that Cameron Boyce was a shining talent taken from us far too soon. I have been following his career since the 2008 double-dose of Mirrors and Eagle Eye, well before he blew up in Disney’s surprisingly great Descendants trilogy. Boyce has never had the chance to work within this indie coming-of-age drama landscape as far as I am aware, so thankfully Runt makes full use of Boyce’s range and nerdy charm. Its world of high school horrors is relatable to anyone who was ever abused mentally or physically.

Cal (Cameron Boyce) is right on the cusp of adulthood. Bullied by the kids at school to cheat on his tests, Cal longs for something to break him free from the monotony. Asking out Gabriella (Brianna Hildebrand) to the homecoming dance is at the top of his agenda, even though “no one goes to those things,” according to her. Her loss is Cecily’s (Nicole Elizabeth Berger) gain, and a new friendship is born. He stands up to the jocks at school (mainly the head honcho Vic, played by Aramis Knight), which catches the attention of a trouble-seeking band of misfits. He earns the nickname Madman because he is “a real life bonafide madman 100%!” Cal is driven to his breaking point when his dog is murdered, and a cute girl he is seeing casually is violated in an uncomfortably violent manner. Runt gives new meaning to the phrase “high school is hell.”

The title Runt also happens to be the name of Cal’s dog in the film; this alone should clue in the viewer as to the dog’s ultimate importance. Narrative-wise, Runt may not stray sharply from several of its coming-of-age brethren, but it does allow a voice for Cameron Boyce to channel through a metaphorical dramatic playground of highs and lows. It deals with heavy content, and the concept of youth having bad influences and toxic school environments—it does so without the lens of harsh judgment.

My only complaint about Runt is the speediness of the final act (mainly the ending). The final frame is weirdly beautiful, but it lacks closure and a proper conclusion. However, nearly everything else about the film brought me back to those feelings of not fitting in from the fringes of high school. Julie and the Phantoms breakout star Charlie Gillespie popping up to tell a story about his dad spiking his coke with Ajax, and a poignant message at the end from the Cameron Boyce Foundation, act as the cherry on top of Runt. Come for Boyce, stay for the harsh complexities of trying to survive high school.

Runt comes to VOD and digital platforms October 19.

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