Director: William Brent Bell
Writer: Stacey Menear
Cast: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, James Russell, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle
I count myself as a bit of a lover of killer/supernaturally possessed toy and doll horror films. Dolls, Puppet Master, Childs Play and Demonic Toys to name a few, I find the sub-genre to be silly, over-the-top and incredibly fun. It is quite cool to see them make a return to mainstream horror with the likes of Annabelle (which I never actually saw but heard quite negative things about) and this, The Boy.
Directed by William Brent Bell (Stay Alive, The Devil Inside) and written by Stacey Menear (Mixtape), The Boy tells the haunting tale of an American woman named Greta (Cohan) who begins a new job as a nanny in a small English village. She enters the large old house in which her new role awaits and finds a nice older couple, Mr and Mrs Heelshire (Norton and Hardcastle). They discuss Greta’s role and then introduce her to their child to whom she will be caregiver. Brahms, the boy Greta has been hired to look after, isn’t exactly what she expected though. He isn’t human, he is a young boy in the form of a rather haunting looking doll. The old couple treat Brahms like a real living child, speaking to him, interacting with him, teaching, feeding and kissing him, and putting him to bed. Initially Greta thinks them a quirky family who have undergone some sort of trauma and agrees to the new strange job, but things become more and more unusual as Greta finds that the doll seems to be more alive than she thought. Noises in the house, footsteps, music and doors creaking begin and Greta must decide the best thing to do in the situation she finds herself in.
I enjoyed some of what this movie had to offer. The location of an old creepy house in an English village is regularly used and that’s because it is often very effective. It is pretty effective here too. Cohan, who some will know from The Walking Dead, is a strong lead and her performance carries much of the film. Her reactions to the absurdity of the situation and the intensifying fear she is feeling is done well and is likely the strongest element of the whole movie. The Boy doll himself, Brahms, is well designed and has that antique creepiness that has become commonplace when people use dolls in horror movies. The sound design is also decent and helps to create the atmosphere which is genuinely eerie at times.
It isn’t all good though. There are twists in the story which caused my enjoyment to slip, and the story relied too much on the simple matter of a “creepy doll” and not enough on a potentially complex reason behind Mr and Mrs Heelshire and their reasons for doing what they do. It felt to me like there were some missed opportunities here, for sure. The inclusion of a side-story in which Greta is being stalked and sought-out by her abusive ex felt tacked on and limp too, a rather unnessesary element which was used purely as a “reason” for Greta to be taking the job. It wasn’t used well.
I thought that this was a very entertaining horror film. The slow burn of the storytelling and the way Bell up’s the tension as we question what is going on and why helps add a quality to the film that stops it from falling flat. It has a good dark atmosphere and a solid lead performance, the location and doll are executed nicely, and aside from the issues I had with it, I found it to be an interesting and fairly effective horror movie. Sure, more could have been done with it and there was a major twist that left me hoping for more, but it is still worth a watch.
3 out of 5