‘The Boy’ (2016) Review: Watching With Cold Lifeless Eyes
A good horror movie is going to do one of two things. It’s going to give a few scares and be fun for a couple of hours or it’s going to settle in and linger for days, months, even years, revisiting your dreams time and time again. The creepy doll movie has the most potential for the latter, tapping into childhood memories and spinning nightmares from the toys of our past, and for many, they succeed. ‘The Boy’ is the latest in this genre and while the doll is indeed creepy, there’s little else here that will make this memorable.
Young and attractive American Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan) answers an add to be a nanny for an 8-year-old boy in a quant English village. She arrives at a country manor that, as she eloquently describes, looks like something out of a storybook. The first sign that something is off is when she meets the boy’s parents, the Heelshires (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle), a couple who are old enough to be his grandparents. They are quintessentially rigid and stiff, living in a properly shadowed home that straight away has Greta curious, and well she should be, for when they introduce her to Brahms, their son, she wonders if it’s a joke. The ‘boy’ is a porcelain figure with perfectly coiffed hair and a tidy little suit. She bursts into laughter but quickly realizes they are entirely serious. As they show her about the expansive home and detail for her the list of routines they have for Brahms, Greta simply accepts the well-paying job as a farce and plays along, even as the couple treat the doll like a real boy. For sure she won’t.
In comes Malcolm (Rupert Evans), a young handsome man the Heelshires have long ago hired to deliver groceries once a week and run other small errands. Once the Heelshires are off on their well-deserved holiday, he tells her the real story. It turns out that Brahms died in a fire 20 years earlier and the Heelshires have been using the doll as a surrogate son ever since. But that doesn’t explain the bad dreams, the bumps in the night, the spooky voices, and the odd circumstances slowly overtaking Greta. Just what is going on?
Well, that’s not too hard to answer. We already know of course. We know it from the title and the image on the poster, and the reveal of it is certainly no surprise. So given that, there should be something more clever in order to keep this story, written by Stacey Menear and directed by William Brent Bell engaging, but there isn’t. Every moment in The Boy is laid out like a recipe for making toast. So obvious is the script that the title itself is the biggest spoiler and there is little I could write here that would give away any other details. Bell manages to evoke some appropriately timed bits of edge, setting up the inevitable jump scares with some skill but you’ll be smirking far more than you will be shivering. For instance, a conventional shower scene, which features no nudity (remember when that was part of the reason we even watched horror movies?) has Greta blissfully unaware that the ‘boy’ is in the bathroom stealing her things. The camera moves about, teasing us with all the PG-13 flesh it can muster on one side of the curtain while on the other side, staying low and showing us garments and jewelry slipping out of sight (presumable into the tiny hands of a doll we never actually see moving), we’re meant to be frightened. It follows all the established horror movie cliches to the letter and yet is so audaciously contrived one wonders if this film is in fact a serious parody.
That thought hangs suspiciously over the remainder of the experience like a cold wet towel, right up to the eye-rolling, forehead-slapping last shot that is so perversely textbook horror 101, it’s almost insulting. It might as well have the words The Boy: Part 2 flashed on the screen. The saving grace to all of this is Cohan, who does absolutely everything she can with the bland script. Of the entire cast, she is the most convincing, and given the most believable dialogue. That can’t be said for the others, especially the late arrival of her boyfriend who is written specifically to be the wedge and sets about being just that with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. Pretty much like the rest of the film.
The thing is, The Boy wants you to think it is something more than it is. It wants you to walk away with questions and feel disturbed by the premise, and sadly, it had that potential, like many horror films do, but doesn’t even come close. There is no challenge, no introspection. What might have been a story with real impact, one based on connecting tragic parallels to deriving meaning from emotional circumstance and consequence, is nothing but a tepid, obvious story that is produced only to make sequels.
The Boy (2016)
Director(s): William Brent Bell
Actor(s): Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, James Russell