There have been some surprisingly good horror movies in recent years amid the usual garbage, and at no time did I think The Boy would fall in the former category. Those lowered expectations also resulted in the movie not falling in the latter either. It’s basically an intriguing idea with some effective moments, but also a film that constantly struggles to stay afloat due to its ridiculousness.
Like other female stars from successful TV shows (eg, Rose Leslie, Natalie Mortimer, Sarah Wayne Callies), The Walking Dead‘s Lauren Cohan finally gets her own horror vehicle as Greta, an American woman who heads all the way to England for a nanny gig so she can grab some cash and escape her past. Naturally, the job takes her to a massive old-fashioned mansion in a remote area, complete with creepy decor and paintings, and an elderly couple who are paying her handsomely to look after their young son, Brahms, so they can go on vacation. You already know this, of course, but Brahms is a creepy-ass looking doll made to look like a creepy-ass boy.
If you’ve seen any horror movie in your life, you’ll have a basic idea of what happens from here. Weird shit starts to happen and Greta starts questioning whether Brahms is really just a doll. At the same time we slowly get fed answers about why an old couple treats a doll like their son and what Greta is running from back home.
That said, there certainly are twists and turns to be enjoyed in The Boy, including those you might not necessarily expect and not when you might expect them. Director William Brent Bell, who previously gave us The Devil Inside, is a pretty skillful director who knows a thing or two about building a sense of dread, not showing audiences too much too soon, and using misdirection to throw audiences off track. To Bell’s credit, he doesn’t rely too much on cheap “boo” tactics, and as a result The Boy has the feel of a classier horror in the vein of something like The Conjuring, though I’m not suggesting that it is anywhere near as good.
The problem with The Boy, as you might expect, is keeping the tone serious enough despite the silly premise. There were times that I found myself chuckling at the situations, and I suspect Bell knew this was unavoidable. Watching this in a nearly empty cinema certainly helped the atmosphere, and I wonder if I would have had a different take had I watched the film at home on DVD.
Apart from a premise that constantly reminds you of how difficult it is to swallow, The Boy also has its fair share of nonsensical horror movie plot holes, inconsistencies and contrivances. It’s probably no worse than most horror movies these days, though for me they were noticeable enough to be a little irritating.
Kudos to Cohan for doing her best to keep a straight face. It’s not easy to make carrying a doll around scary, but she certainly does the best she can with all the heavy breathing, screaming and nervous eye movements.
On the whole, The Boy is a passable attempt at creating scares out of a daft concept. Those who can’t take the premise seriously will hate it, but those who can should find it to be an above average horror experience. Personally, I liked what it was trying to achieve and its efforts to achieve it. As far as creepy doll movies go, it’s superior to 2014’s Conjuring prequel Annabelle.
3 stars out of 5