The Boy (2016)

Every child needs to feel loved.

Horror has never shied away from evoking terror through small playful objects. From Child’s Play’s serial-killer toy Chucky, to The Conjuring’s haunted doll Annabelle, it’s clear that puppets and ventriloquist dummies have the ability to make certain folk feel uneasy. For some, standing in a room with a couple of glaring porcelain dolls is enough to cause the heebie jeebies while for others, the simple sight of an in-store mannequin could stir feelings of discomfort. With that said, The Boy is the latest entry in the sinister-doll horror subgenre, its outrageous concept and spine-chilling trailer catching my attention almost immediately. Its premise registering high on the creep factor, The Boy never fully utilizes the craziness of its principle idea with director William Brent Bell, The Devil Inside (2012), and first-time screenwriter Stacey Menear, derailing the picture in a third act twist that takes some of the shine off the china.

No rest till son down
No rest till son down

Lauren Cohan plays Greta Evans, a Montana woman who arrives in a remote part of England to start a new full-time job as a nanny, hired to watch over a young boy named Brahms (and the family home) while his folks are away on vacation. However, when she reaches the cavernous estate and meets with her new employers — Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle, respectively) — Greta swiftly discovers that Brahms is no ordinary boy — he is in fact a life-size porcelain doll. Taken back by the shock, Greta (at first) thinks that she’s being duped. That’s until she notices the couple treat the doll as if it were their living eight-year-old son, with Mrs. Heelshire handing Greta a list of distinct instructions that she must follow in order to care for Brahms well. After choosing to ignore the Heelshire’s rules, strange and inexplicable things begin to happen around the big wireless-less house, leading Greta to believe that the doll might actually be alive.

It’s clear from the onset that Lauren Cohan — of The Walking Dead (2010) fame — is the picture’s biggest virtue. Unlike most would-be scream queens, Cohan fashions a character that truly feels like a bona fide human, the stunning 34-year-old showcasing a knack for chitchat and other casual exchanges whist keeping a straight face throughout the narrative’s various eye-rolling jump scares, grounding an otherwise far-fetched state of affairs — Greta’s initial laughter about the situation is spot on. Cohan’s confident work honestly sells the piece, her actions and reactions displaying genuine suspense and confusion in a rather convincing way. Furthermore, Cohan’s magnetism extends to her relationship with co-star Rupert Evans, Hellboy (2004), the charming grocery man Malcolm, whose courtship with Greta works remarkably well.

'Buy a doll they said ... It'll be fun they said ...'
‘Buy a doll they said … It’ll be fun they said …’

Similarly, the expressionless Brahms doll is rather frightful too, the unsettling design by MASTERSFX generating a sense of hair-raising discomfort — I for one kept waiting for Brahms to do something that an inanimate object wouldn’t or shouldn’t do. As is the lavish production design by John Willett, Final Destination (2000) — and art direction by James Steuart, Final Destination 2 (2003) — whose work adds an ominous Romanesque backdrop to Greta’s claustrophobic slow-burning journey (through the Heelshire’s buried secrets).

Alas, while other blood-curdling evil dummy flicks such as Child’s Play (1988) or Annabelle (2014) embraced the nightmarish plot device of a terrifying puppet come to life, The Boy simply does not. Apart from a couple of cheap build-up jolts — you know the deal, missing garments, misplaced objects and eerie child-like chatter (that echoes through the empty mansion of course) — the picture’s creepy-doll tag, along with its unnerving environment, are somewhat squandered. Things kinda go pear-shaped in the flick’s last act when the overarching mystery surrounding Brahms gets unveiled, this odd revelation tipping The Boy back into familiar territory — there’s a midway twist that’s intriguing, but this second surprise just reeks of sequel set up. This dip in storytelling begins with the arrival of Greta’s unhinged ex-boyfriend Cole (Ben Robson) — whose appearance is foreseeable from the get-go — and it’s all downhill from there.

Debbie Rochon can't hold a candle to Lauren Cohan
Debbie Rochon can’t hold a candle to Lauren Cohan

Sorry folks, I regret to inform you that The Boy is a missed opportunity, let down by a clumsy climax that feels tacked on or out of place, director William Brent Bell unearthing a number of gaping (unanswered) questions the further things plod along. What’s the deal with Brahms? Is he a friendly presence or a malevolent foe? I’m sure the final reveal will disappoint most. In spite of this, the flick isn’t a bad way to waste 97 minutes as it’s spent in the company of one of Hollywood’s most gorgeous up-and-comers, (the convincing) Lauren Cohan, who remains captivating even whilst going about her daily business in a dusty manor. Boy oh boy she’s pretty!

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Boy is released through STX Entertainment