Directed by William Brent Bell. Starring Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, James Russell, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, Ben Robson, Jett Klyne, Lily Pater, Matthew Walker, Stephanie Lemelin. Written by Stacey Menear.
In the new horror movie The Boy, a young American woman comes to nanny for an elderly British couple at (where else?) an isolated country estate.
When she gets arrives at the manor, however, she soon discovers that the boy she’s supposed to look after over the next three months is not a real boy – he’s a porcelain mannequin. Dun-dun-duuuuun.
But it’s not some evil plot: as Greta (Lauren Cohan) soon learns, the dummy is a replacement son for the Heelshires (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle), who lost their real 8-year-old son Brahms two decades ago in a fire. The doll is just a creepy replacement for the now-elderly couple, who act as if Brahms is still alive.
But twenty years of looking after a porcelain doll takes its toll, and the Heelshires sorely needs a vacation. That’s where Greta comes in, and since the pay is good and she needs to get away from something or someone back home, she agrees to spend months taking care of a creepy doll in the middle of nowhere, with only intermittent visits from friendly delivery boy Malcolm (Rupert Evans).
It’s a fun premise, and there are a number of ways the film can go from here. Forgive me for wanting a Repulsion-like tale where everything is actually as it seems and Greta slowly drives herself insane, only for the Heelshires to return to a grisly scene.
But The Boy is mainstream horror film, which means that backstory will slowly be revealed until the film wraps up everything in a neat little package by the end.
For a good while, though, director William Brent Bell (who previously made the risible found footage horror film The Devil Inside) is able to keep us guessing with little more than the premise in Stacey Menear’s script to maintain interest. The first two thirds of the film is little more than Greta eyeballing the doll and getting creeped out, but these scenes are deceptively effective.
And the beautiful Cohan, more refined and elegant a lead than you might expect in a film like this, makes for a great target of the supernatural terror. One scene, which depicts the actress sauntering around in skimpy lingerie, is so exploitative the filmmakers felt the need to label it a dream sequence.
There’s something strange, almost sinister behind her eyes – I kept waiting for a reveal that never came. But when ex-boyfriend Cole (Ben Robson) shows up, the film threatens to run off the rails: with his ponytail, hipster beard, and phony American accent, he’s one of the least threatening baddies in recent memory (on top of that, the film never bothers to explain why his character is so bad Greta had to flee the country to get away from him.)
Ultimately, The Boy is a neat half-hour Twilight Zone episode stretched out to three times that length, and it doesn’t have the scares or atmosphere to sustain it. The climax won’t surprise anyone who’s been paying attention (one early line about Brahms is a real groaner) and after the cards are on the table, the final third of the film devolves into the usual-usual.
Still, it’s somewhat appealing to see this kind of straightforward B-movie thriller on the big screen. The Boy doesn’t really work in the end, but it’s nice to see a horror movie that creates tension via a carefully-crafted atmosphere and also follows a particular (and sensible) logic. At the very least, there’s some fun to be had here.