15 year-old Nathan Davies (Stephan Bender) moves to a small Southern town with his parents (Thomas Jay Ryan and Diana Scarwid) and starts to befriend the older boy next door, Roy (Maximillian Roeg), fellow high school student and bus driver, who is in a relationship with Evelyn (Rooney Mara). Nathan and Roy start to develop their relationship by helping each other with school work at Nathan’s house. While Roy is teaching Nathan how to do an algebra problem, Nathan touches his hand. Roy pulls away at first, but then takes hold of Nathan’s hand.
After they finish their work, the boys go for a walk in the woods, finding an old cemetery, where they stop and start kissing. They undress down to everything but socks and underwear, and lay in an embrace together. The relationship between Nathan and his father is revealed to be a little strange and full of tension. One morning Roy pulls the bus into a part in the woods and they kiss and Nathan palms Roy. Roy asks if Nathan has ever done this with anyone before, and he promises he never has. Roy takes Nathan swimming with Burke and Randy, but Nathan admits he can’t swim. While watching Roy, Burke threatens to throw him in the water, but Roy stops him. While Roy is driving them home, he pulls onto the side of the road and they start kissing. When Nathan starts to masturbate, Roy stops him, asking “who taught [him] to screw like that”. Nathan swears “no one”.
When Nathan gets home that night, his father wants to know if he had a good time. Nathan is on the brink of tears as he answers his father. He ties a string up to his dresser drawer and bedpost, tucks his pillows under his sheets, and moves to the floor to sleep. In the night he hears a thud and runs from his room, because it was his father sneaking in. We learn that his father has touched him in the past inappropriately. Nathan sleeps outside and doesn’t come home. He does for meals but returns to his tree outside after.
Roy finds him and offers him a place to sleep in his family’s barn. The next morning, Nathan goes home for breakfast and his father catches him, yelling at him to not run from him, but Nathan’s mother interrupts and he runs to the school bus. Later, Roy tells Nathan they’re going camping with Burke and Randy that weekend. That night, Roy tells ghost stories around the campfire, and in their tent, Nathan gives Roy a blowjob, and Roy asks him if he minds when Roy doesn’t do those things back to him, and Nathan says he doesn’t mind. Hiking through the woods, the boys find an old plantation house. They go inside to investigate, and Nathan hears a voice call his name, resembling his father’s. They then find cloth with what looks like to be blood on it, and they smell sulfur (which Nathan says is the smell of the Devil), and the boys see a shadow move up the stairs.
Burke takes the flashlight from Roy and goes to investigate with Randy. Roy and Nathan go into a bedroom and talk, and Nathan says he feels as if he’ll never leave that house. He hears the voice again and Roy goes to see if the guys are back. Nathan sees his father and closes his eyes tight, when Roy enters the room again. He tells Nathan not to look at whatever he’s seeing anymore and kisses him. Roy gets down on his knees and proceeds to give Nathan a blowjob, when Burke and Randy find them. Roy storms out of the room, and Nathan hears the voice again, and is suddenly knocked unconscious. We see a shadow of a person carrying him up the stairs.
In the attic, Burke rapes Nathan, and realizing what he’s done, disgusted with himself, he breaks an arm off a rocking chair and knocks Nathan over the head with it. Blood starts pooling on the floor beneath his head and he leaves Nathan. The boys find him in the morning and Roy tells Randy to go with Burke, whom he says he doesn’t believe at this point. Roy’s family goes to Nathan’s funeral, and we see Nathan’s ghost leaving the plantation house. Nathan’s mother leaves his father, and Nathan finds Roy crying in the barn where he once slept. As Roy looks up, he sees Nathan and hugs him.
At the end of the story, Roy is driving the bus and looks in the mirror to an empty seat, but when he looks a second time, Nathan is there smiling at him.
There are some fine moments in this little gem of movie and the presence of Maximillian Roeg, Diana Scarwid, and Randy Wayne lifts the cast to a higher level of competence. Whether or not the viewer is willing to go along with the ending will make the vote for or against the film. Bolton does have a fine touch with stories about the coming out of young men in his films and his ability to capture the Gothic atmosphere of the South is solid.
Floating uneasily between ghost story and gay tragedy, “Dream Boy” marvels as young love flowers on a dunghill of homophobia, incest and religious repression. The material may be florid, but its execution is sensitive.