(dir. William Brent Bell)
A young American woman, Greta, takes a nanny position in the U.K. but when she arrives she discovers her charge, Brahms, isn’t a boy, but a doll. What begins as a laughable situation quickly turns to horror as Greta begins to question her sanity and whether the boy really is just an inanimate object.
From Talky Tina, Chucky, and Annabelle, horror has been in no short supply of dastardly dolls. And for most of its runtime, The Boy falls in line with what’s come before. It’s not all that original, but it is a gleefully entertaining and surprisingly well-made low-budget, studio horror that overcomes its PG-13 rating. The film plays up how ridiculous a situation Greta has found herself in, and Lauren Cohan perfectly balances disbelief and shock with humor. She’s an entirely likable lead whose tragic past gives audiences an emotional vulnerability to latch onto. Even better, she doesn’t spend the entire film in disbelief over what she sees, and once she finally accepts that Brahms is more than a doll is where the film really gets interesting. The likability of the lead goes a long way considering that most of Greta’s interactions are with the porcelain Brahms, and a grocery man/suitor played by an equally charming Rupert Evans. The Boy isn’t some great character study, but it cares enough about its characters to give the film a textured sense of silliness and genuine unease for the actors to play off of.
Bell does an admirable job playing off the space of giant house that the film is set in, using wide shots to draw the viewer’s eye to brief movements in the corner and shadows dancing across the wall. Whether it’s a daytime or nighttime scene, Bell creates plenty of unexpected moments of mysterious movement and unnerving stillness. And on the subject of stillness, Brahms isn’t used the same way as Chucky or any of the other living dolls we’ve come to associate with the genre. His position changes, his head turns, but always out of the frame, leaving Greta and the viewer to come back and find him different. This serene little doll doesn’t give off a sense of malice, but there’s an odd intelligence to him that’s perhaps more disturbing than an evil grin would be. It’s all well-constructed fun and games, and then the reveal happens and The Boy is elevated to another level entirely.
If you’ve yet to see the movie, I beg of you to go in without looking at spoilers. You all know how many countless horror films I’ve seen, and I’ve become pretty good at figuring out reveals and twists beforehand, but I did not see the one in The Boy coming, prompting me to literally say “holy shit!” when I saw this in the theatres. I’ll leave it at that, but I will say that the film undergoes one of the most satisfying third act turns that I’ve encountered in a mainstream horror film.
Scare Factor: 4/5 The Boy is a near perfect movie night horror flick, that’s best watched with a group of friends, and preferably friends who have an unconquerable fear of dolls. It doesn’t reshape the genre in any way, but it does provide a fun dose of chills, that lives up its campfire story ambition. There have been plenty of solid doll horror movies, but The Boy may be the very best.