UK Release Date: 18th March 2016
Runtime: 97 minutes
Director: William Brent Bell
Writer: Stacey Menear
Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle
Synopsis: An American writer moves over to the UK to look after the child of an English couple whilst they are away. She soon discovers that this is no ordinary babysitting trip and that the child is, in fact, a doll.
With a couple of notable exceptions, 2016 has not been a vintage year for horror cinema. The likes of The Other Side of the Door and The Forest have been far more common than interesting genre efforts like The Witch. The latest horror flick out of the gate is The Boy – boasting a stripped-down, creepy setting and a truly unique central premise that presents plenty of opportunities to scare the audience.
Greta (Lauren Cohan) escapes an abusive relationship in America to work as a live-in nanny for the English Heelshire family. Mrs Heelshire (Diana Hardcastle) introduces Greta to their son, Brahms, who is not a human being, but a porcelain doll. Before the couple leave on holiday, Mr Heelshire (Jim Norton) gives Greta Brahms’ list of rules, by which she must abide. Greta, alone in the house, is dismissive of Brahms’ rules and forms a relationship with grocery delivery man Malcolm (Rupert Evans). Soon, though, Brahms bites back.
On paper, The Boy has one of the more interesting premises in recent horror cinema. The notion of a nanny left with the unusual task of caring for a porcelain doll in an enormous country house is an interesting one and one with huge potential. Unfortunately, debut screenwriter Stacey Menear constructs a film that, for most of its running time at least, is a generic Hollywood horror effort with the focus squarely on loud noises and lowest common denominator jump scares. Very little time is spent on establishing any sort of atmosphere.
Brahms is not like other children. It is very important that you follow his rules.
The film does, however, benefit from the easy charisma and relatability of lead actor Lauren Cohan. Best known for The Walking Dead, she does a great job here of carrying the film with her easy-going charm, often without any other human character to interact with. Her burgeoning romance with Rupert Evans’ rent-a-hunk is believable from the start and there’s a definite chemistry between the two performers, despite the rather minimal attention afforded to that story by the script.
The lack of tension building work in The Boy leaves the first hour or so of the running time feeling a little limp. The Devil Inside director William Brent Bell does little to bring anything new to the haunted house genre and largely deals in uninspired set pieces that audiences have seen hundreds of times before. This gives the film a distinct lack of momentum that means, when its big final reveal comes, it arrives completely out of nowhere.
Thankfully, that reveal is so utterly ludicrous and devoid of narrative logic that it takes what had previously been something of a dull tale and turns it completely on its head. It’s a twist of such hokey genius that it imbues the final stages of The Boy with a sense of real unpredictability that channels the best sequences of 1980s slasher cinema, mixed with modern home invasion horror tropes. It makes no sense, but it certainly raises a smile and produces a handful of surprisingly chilling moments.
No offence, Brahms, but you kinda creep me out.
For all of the flaws of its early stages, The Boy is a film that comes good in the end with an innovative and exciting climax that pays off the intriguing setup in surprising fashion. It’s not a film that flies the flag for the best that horror cinema has to offer, but it is a movie that makes its way to an entertaining climax that works far better than it has any right to given what came before.
It’s not quite a real boy yet, but it’s far from wooden.
Pop or Poop?
The Boy struggles to rise above modern horror tropes in order to live up to its interesting central premise. Until the final act twist gives the story a welcome dose of anarchy, it’s a pedestrian film devoid of tension or terror.
Lauren Cohan’s central performance is charming, but Rupert Evans is somewhat underwhelming in the comic relief role and fails to do much with the underwritten character. Thankfully, the unhinged final act ensures that people leave the cinema with smiles on their faces… if not exactly a chill down their spine.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.