'The Boy': Film Review

Like its title character, the film only sporadically comes to life.
1/22/2016

A young woman takes a job caring for a boy who turns out to be a life-sized doll in William Brent Bell's horror film.

It's a wonder that dolls are manufactured anymore, considering how many of them turn out to be haunted or demonically possessed, at least in the movies. Now joining the cinematic ranks of the likes of Chuckie and Annabelle is Brahms, the life-sized porcelain doll who figures prominently in the alternately creepy and silly horror film The Boy.

The story concerns Greta (Lauren Cohan), a young American woman who's taken a job as a nanny to an eight-year-old boy in a rambling mansion in the remote British countryside. Having taken the unlikely assignment to escape romantic troubles, Greta is more than a little surprised to discover that her new charge, Brahms, is actually a doll.

He's the stand-in for the son of the dotty elderly couple the Heelshires (Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle), whose real son was tragically killed in a fire twenty years earlier. Departing for their first holiday in decades, they leave Greta with a lengthy list of instructions for Brahms' care, including never covering his face and kissing him before he goes to bed.

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Although she's initially put off by the situation's craziness, Greta soon settles into the massive home whose windows are sealed shut and which seems forever shrouded in darkness. In between handling such unappealing assignments as emptying the outdoor rat traps, she periodically enjoys the company of Malcolm (Rupert Evans), the charming grocery deliveryman who shamelessly flirts with her.

You can probably guess what happens next. Brahms seems to have a life of his own, mysteriously throwing off the blanket covering him, shifting positions and even moving from room to room. At first Greta think it's merely her imagination, but when Brahms thoughtfully leaves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in front of her door she becomes a believer.

She even manages to persuade the skeptical Malcolm that the doll is possessed by the spirit of the dead boy. At first things go smoothly, with Greta cooing over Brahms and lovingly tucking him in at night. But the unexpected arrival of her former boyfriend Cole (Ben Robson), who's intent on bringing her back home with him and who isn't about to let a doll stop him, results in all hell breaking loose.

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Director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside) generally succeeds in creating an eerie atmosphere, filling the screen with extended close-ups of sinister-looking toys, mounted animal heads and various architectural details of the house's nooks and crannies. He also shamelessly indulges in familiar horror movie tropes, from the discreetly filmed, PG-13 shower scene to the horrific moments that turn out to be nightmares to the jump scares featuring sudden loud noises.

Stacey Menear's screenplay doesn't manage to sustain its clever premise, with the final act featuring a banal and formulaic revelation that unfortunately takes what had been a spooky haunted house tale into familiar slasher movie territory.

Cohan, who can't seem to escape being terrified onscreen (she's a regular on The Walking Dead), manages to fulfill the often outlandish emotional demands of her role with solid professionalism; Evans is appealing as the romantic foil who delivers much of the story's exposition, and British theater pros Norton and Hardcastle hit all the right notes as the deluded oldsters. But despite the clear hint at a sequel provided at the end, it's unlikely that audiences will make Brahms' acquaintance again anytime soon.

Production: Lakeshore Entertainment, STX Entertaiment, Vertigo Entertainment

Distributor: STX Entertainment

Cast: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, Ben Robson, James Russell

Director: William Brent Bell

Screenwriter: Stacey Menear

Producers: Jim Wedaa, Roy Lee, Matt Berenson, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Richard Wright

Executive producers: Eric Reid, David Kern, John Powers Middleton, Robert Simonds, Adam Fogelson, Oren Aviv, Wang Zhongjun, Wang Zhonglei, Donald Tang

Director of photography: Daniel Pearl

Production designer: John Willett

Editor: Brian Berdan

Costume designer: Jori Woodman

Composer: Bear McCreary

Casting: Julie Hutchinson

Rated PG-13, 97 min.

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