The Boy (2016) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and terror, and for some thematic material
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Diana Hardcastle, Jim Norton, Ben Robson
Director: William Brent Bell
Screenplay: Stacey Menear
Review published January 24, 2016
"The Walking Dead"'s Lauren Cohan (Van Wilder 2, Casanova) stars as Greta, an American woman who takes a job as a nanny in England in order to get away from a dangerously abusive and obsessed ex. It's a large and isolated country mansion owned by an older couple called the Heelshires, who expect Greta to cater to the every needs of their eight-year-old boy, Brahms, as they go away on holiday. Greta finds out the reason why they've had difficulty keeping prior nannies on hire once she meets Brahms, as he turns out to be a doll, literally, life-sized, and made mostly of porcelain.
The Heelshires maintain that their boy, who died in a house fire two decades prior, is very much alive in this doll, and he has particular needs that Greta must fulfill to keep him happy, one of them being that the only person other then the Heelshires allowed to come over is the delivery man, Malcolm (Evans, Hellboy). Greta initially think the notion is absurd, but a job's a job, but soon discovers there may be some truth in the assertion that Brahms is very much alive, and isn't going to take kindly to her not following his rules, or attempting to leave him there alone.
Directed by William Brent Bell, who has helmed some less-than-stellar horror genre entries like The Devil Inside and Stay Alive, and The Boy isn't quite good enough, even with some decent production values, to think there's anything promising that we can expect from him in the future. The plot feels like an episode of "Tales from the Crypt"' that was beefed up to a 90-plus minute run time, which means that its build-up is slo-o-o-o-o-w as can be to stretch it out to its harrowing conclusion, as we watch Greta go through the mostly uninteresting motions of making friends with Malcolm, dealing with her escape from her ex, and, eventually, what to do about the Brahms situation. As there are set rules, as with all horror movies that employ them, they aren't followed, and repercussions are soon evident.
Though billed as a horror movie, it ends up trying to play up its mystery as to whether the doll is possessed, or if Greta is merely cracking up. Or, perhaps, it's all an elaborate ruse. The script by first-timer Stacey Menear tries to keep you wavering, but it eventually does reveal exactly what it is by the time of the climax, and then what little suspense the film had up to that point dissipates. Is all of this teasing and build-up worth once it's all said and done? Not at all, in my opinion, as the ending of the film that seeks to answer all of our initial questions only raises even more of them. Even if you are surprised with where things go, the illogical nature of it all will probably unravel in your mind shortly after it's all said and done, so all we're left with is just the early creepy atmosphere and the weird premise to unnerve us.
As with most horror movies these days, it leaves itself open for the possibility of a follow-up, should it gain an audience in theaters or, more likely, once it hits the home market. Its budget is a meager $10 million, which it uses well with some good cinematography, courtesy of music-video veteran Daniel Pearl (Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, Captivity), and eerie gothic atmosphere, so a return on investment is likely, even if it doesn't catch fire. Dolls are generally creepy, and certainly the one used here for Brahms would be unnerving to have around the house alone, but given that we've already had possessed-doll flicks like Child's Play, Dead Silence, and Annabelle, it's getting more difficult to scare us just from seeing a miniature person with dead eyes in the room; we need a little more than this to give us something to keep us up at night. However, all of those other doll films are R-rated, and given this film is PG-13, perhaps it will draw enough younger viewers who've never been allowed to see something with a malevolent creepy doll, which might make for an effectively hair-raising night at the movies only for the completely uninitiated.
©2016 Vince Leo