When Maggie isn’t stabbing zombies in the head, she’s caring for properly groomed, possibly possessed porcelain dolls. Lauren Cohan and Rupert Evans star in The Boy.
Director – William Brent Bell
Screenplay – Stacey Menear
Producer – Matt Berenson, Roy Lee, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg & Jim Wedaa
Rated PG-13 for violence and terror, and for some thematic material
Looking for a change of scenery after escaping an abusive relationship from her ex-boyfriend Cole (Ben Robson), Greta (Lauren Cohan) leaves Montana behind for England, where she gets a temporary job as a nanny for the Heelshire family. Upon arriving at their residence, Mr. (Jim Norton) and Mrs. Heelshire (Diana Hardcastle) introduce her to the pride and joy of theirs she’ll be looking after, Brahms.
To Greta’s surprise and slight amusement, Brahms is a porcelain doll, yet he is treated like a living child by the Heelshires. Just before leaving for their vacation, the Heelshires give Greta a strict set of rules that they insist she abide by, warning her that Brahms is not like other children.
No shit. He’s made of porcelain.
Of course, if you’ve seen any rule-based horror flick, you should know that Greta’s gonna break every single one of them and pay the price for doing so.
From The Twilight’s Zone’s “Talky Tina” to Chucky to Annabelle, Hollywood is no stranger to cashing in on creepy dolls. These sorta films require a lot more skill than one might think. There needs to be a balance between terror and a self-awareness that the idea of a vengeful toy coming to life is just as silly as it is terrifying. One wrong move and your film is drawing chuckles from the audience instead of gasps and screams.
Which brings us to The Boy, January’s second horror film offering following The Forest, and unlike the childhood rhyme, this time, second is not the best.
Let’s put aside the big question this film leaves behind: How did Greta find out about the isolated, technology averse Heelshires from her dinky small-town in Montana? The Boy’s faults extend far beyond that unanswered mystery. See, where The Forest had an intriguing premise that wasn’t taken seriously enough, The Boy’s campy premise is treated way too seriously. Even with its spooky atmosphere (it’s kinda hard making an old Gothic mansion in the woods not creepy) and fine performances that are far more committed to this project than need be, this film just cannot escape how unintentionally silly it is, though I’ll admit that there is something genuinely unnerving at first in the way the Heelshires interact with a doll.
And speaking of which, as unnerving as it may seem to the viewer, how is it that the character witnessing these two kooks isn’t bolting for the door and booking it back home? Her domestic troubles can’t be that bad.
Director William Brent Bell, whose previous works include Stay Alive and The Devil Inside, clearly knows all the cheap tricks to use in getting the audience to jump and gasp and jump some more. One particular setpiece which takes place up in the attic at night and, go figure, during a storm, is staged quite well; however, Bell can’t seem to decide whether to play it straight or have some over-the-top fun with this film. Too often, he depends on jump scares to frighten the audience, and of course, you can’t forget about those nightmare sequences. It’s cliche enough as it is just doing it once. Bell has Lauren Cohan jolting up in her bed in a cold, nightmarish sweat about a hundred more times.
The twist – yep, there is one – that finally explains everything and has Greta confronting the evil force that possesses the doll doesn’t just undo everything that was previously established, it shatters it all into pieces and sweeps it into the trash. To say it transforms The Boy from one film into an entirely different one is an understatement. It’s a twist so preposterous, even M. Night Shyamalan would scoff at it.
The Boy could’ve worked as a campy/creepy tale a la The Twilight Zone. Unfortunately, it plays it straight far more than it should and doesn’t go all-out as its batty premise demands. The performances are fine and director William Brent Bell is partially successful in conjuring up some spooky atmosphere at times, but overall, all this film has to offer are cheap jump scares and unintentional laughs.
I give The Boy a D (★).