The Boy, directed by William Brent Bell, attempts to put a new spin on the haunted-doll motif. This film caught my eye because Daniel Pearl of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame performs the camera duties. Additionally, The Boy also stars Lauren Cohan from The Walking Dead TV series.
The Boy tries to shift the haunted doll story from that of a strange toy in the corner, to a doll that family believes to be their actual son.
The Boy, Brahms
Greta, Lauren Cohan, arrives at the home of the Heelshires, a family of English aristocrats living in a mansion in the English Countryside. Greta intends to work for the Heelshires as a nanny while they are away on holiday. Things immediately get weird when the Heelshires introduce Greta to their son Brahms. Brahms is porcelain headed doll in the shape of a young boy. Greta laughs, thinking that they are joking. She quickly realizes that the Heelshires are deadly serious. The Heelshires provide Greta with an explicit list of duties that Greta must provide for Brahms every day.
Before entrusting their son with Greta, the Heelshires speak privately with the porcelain doll. Brahms, approves and Greta takes the job.
Things Get Weird
As if babysitting a porcelain doll isn’t creepy enough, strange things begin to happen around the house. Disembodied sounds occur. Brahms moves about inexplicably. Greta notices some of here possessions disappearing. Thinking herself crazy, Greta begins to suspect that the doll is haunted. Greta befriends a man named Malcom, played by Rupert Evans. Malcom runs errands and delivers groceries to the Heelshires. Malcom reveals that Brahms was a real boy, The child died in a fire. To deal with their grief, the Heelshires adopted the doll as a way to deal with the grief.
The Twist (Spoiler)
Brahms never died in the fire. However, Brahms did crush a girls head, Emily Cribbs, and left her in the woods to die. To protect Brahms, the Heelshires staged a fire to fake Brahms death. Unfortunately, Brahms was burnt severely in the fire. The Heelshires hid Brahms behind the walls and he has been there ever since. Greta really perceived the strange events of the house. Likewise, the real Brahms triggered the events as he moved from place to place through service tunnels behind the walls. Conversely, the Heelshire’s did not intend for Greta to be Brahms nanny, but rather his wife.
The Boy – Doomed to Mediocrity
On the surface, this tale appears intriguing. However, pulling this story off proves much more difficult that it may seem. Unfortunately, this films paints itself into a corner very early on. A horror movie enthusiasts keen eye for detail sniffs this out rather quickly. For example, with no supernatural element, the directors options constrict dramatically. The only scene that depicts the doll moving happens during a dream sequence.
The Director makes an egregious mistake early on by tipping his hand. In detail, at the grave of Brahms, Greta makes the statement that Brahms “would have been” Malcom’s age had he lived. To me this clearly pointed to the director trying to rationalize the big reveal at the end. He established Brahms age comparing him to Malcom, indicates that Brahms would be a potential suitor to Greta, much like Malcom. Likewise, additional details like setting traps to keep rats from the walls, or speaking loudly when reading poetry supported this hypothesis.
Apart from that, the film stumbles on many familiar obstacles. For example, Brahms steals Greta’s clothes while she showers. Subsequently, he open the mysterious attic that Greta was unable to breach. Greta, wet and wearing only a towel, tiptoes into the hallway to see the attic stairs. Slowly she ascends into the attic while Brahms closes the door behind her. Poor decision making defines the horror genre. However, if ever there was an indicator, a warning beacon, to GTFO of a house, the unexplained opening of the attic is one of them.
The Boy – All Bad?
To be honest, the film fails to launch. But, it also enjoys a good 35 minutes of tension and mystery. Due to the constraints discussed earlier, The Boy must rely on simple jump-scares to provide tension relief. 35 minutes in, I remained intrigued with the setup and remained willing to close the deal. Brahms, the doll, successfully crosses the uncanny valley to create a creepy facsimile of a child. Lauren Cohan performs admirably as Greta. While she makes some questionable decisions, Lauren Cohan conveys both a sense of vulnerability as well as competence. I believe her when she freezes in fear, but I also believe when she breaks bad at the end.
I mentioned in the in introduction that Daniel Pearl provided the cinematography for this film. The film enjoys several shots that take advantage of his presence, but none better that the emergence of the real Brahms behind the wall. Daniel Pearl also shoots a towering low-angle shot of the mansion to increase its menace. While not quite as artful, this technique that Daniel Pearl used in the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
This review makes it quite clear that The Boy is not a classic. The real scares are few and far between, and the best of them rely on dream sequences and jump-scares. Still, the film almost pulls the viewer in before wresting failure from the jaws of success. It only narrowly misses its target and the film is not horrible by any stretch.
The fact that the film made the PG-13 cut allowed me to let my daughter to perform test-screening. Not as well equipped to sniff out the twist, she happily watched the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it. Seasoned veterans may dismiss The Boy as a lukewarm take on a familiar plot. Regardless, there may be something for the average moviegoer.
The Boy (2016) - Almost Daring Enough - Malevolent Dark
Director: William Brent Bell
Date Created: 2016-01-01 00:00