Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence and Terror, and for some Thematic Material
Directed by: William Brent Bell
Written by: Stacey Menear
Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle & Ben Robson
To be perfectly honest, my expectations were not very high walking into this movie for three reasons. The first being that January is typically a dump month for movies that studios have no faith in and this is especially true for horror films. The second reason is that the “killer doll” subgenre has been done to death twice over at this point. The third (and final) reason was the director: William Brent Bell, the man who brought us a killer video game, one of the worst demonic possession films in existence, and one of the worst horror films that I’ve ever seen. However, THE BOY is easily the best thing that Bell has directed thus far. That’s not saying much, but it is saying something. THE BOY is a middle-of-the-road PG-13 horror flick that has the pieces for a superbly creepy story, but never quite fits them together in an original way. It’s a watchable, though forgettable, experience.
Greta has traveled to Britain in order to take a well-paying nanny position. Her employers are the Heelshires, a strange old couple who believe that a small porcelain doll is actually their son. In order to get a steady cash flow and quiet time to herself, Greta takes the nanny position and watches over Brahms (the creepy inanimate doll). She’s given a list of rules to follow in order to properly take care of Brahms, but promptly ignores them (wouldn’t you?). However, this could be a potentially deadly mistake as strange things begin to happen in the large countryside mansion, including items going missing and Brahms appearing to move on his own.
Thus far, THE BOY doesn’t sound like anything too remarkable or special in the horror cannon. What can be applauded is the use of an effectively eerie atmosphere. The fog-laden, antique-filled setting of the Heelshire mansion is an appropriately creepy one for a story like this. The film looks good for the most part and there are actually a number of suspenseful moments. The film isn’t above including a few jump scares that come in the form of nightmares. For the most part, it relies on less-is-more sensibilities that echoes effective horror films of the past. For a solid portion of the story, the viewer is left in the dark as to whether Brahms is actually alive or Greta is just going crazy. A similar psychological approach was used in underrated evil doll films like MAGIC and PIN. Also, director Bell seems to be attempting to shake off the laziness displayed in his previous work.
THE BOY doesn’t do so well when it comes to characters. Though an honest-to-God attempt is made to flesh her out, Greta is not much of a compelling protagonist. This comes at no fault of Lauren Cohan’s performance (as she’s bringing a typical scream queen persona to the table), but simply due to clichéd writing that reveals a couple of potentially emotional developments in rather forced ways. Rupert Evans is okay as the potential love-interest and exposition-spewing delivery man, but those are about the only two purposes that his character serves. The stoic-faced Brahms doll outshines pretty much every performance on the screen, save for Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle as the Heelshire couple (who receive a total screen time of about five minutes).
As far as the screenplay goes, THE BOY serves as a watchable little slow-burn that’s sure to scare the crap out of filmgoers who haven’t watched many horror films before. It’s not necessarily good, but not anywhere near bad either…until a certain point in the final third. This story has a great idea in a last-act plot twist, but this third-act revelation wasn’t executed with enough care or attention to detail to make it memorable or effective. I love the idea of this ending, but the film’s shoddy handling of it makes it into an eye-rolling scene that opens up a ton of plot holes instead of a disturbing conclusion. Overall, THE BOY is a middle-of-the-road PG-13 horror flick aimed at the tween crowd. It’s far better than anything else William Brent Bell has directed thus far, but remains a film that’s brimming with unfulfilled potential (you’ll see what I mean if you get someone to spoil the ending).