In life, we have to make tough decisions. Last night, a Friday night after an extremely long work week, I made such a decision when I volunteered to see The Boy of my own volition. With no critics’ screenings being offered in the US, and no midnight openings in NYC, I braved an impending Snowmageddon to weigh in on William Brent Bell’s housebound horror film – and can report that it’s the repugnant genre dumpsterfire you’d expect from a January release. Good ‘effing lord, do I really need to write another 500 words about what a stale, vapid chore this delightless thriller is?
Lauren Cohan stars as Greta, an American nanny who takes a job in a desolate English village. When her car pulls up, Greta is greeted by a gothic looking mansion owned by by the Heelshire family, who talk highly of their son, Brahms. When it comes time to meet the Heelshire’s son, Greta is perplexed when she is introduced to a doll, and not a human. She’s given a list of rules she must follow when taking care of Brahms, and with that, the Heelshires leave their unknowing housesitter to fend for herself against an apparent ghost-boy – BECAUSE THAT DOESN’T REQUIRE A MORE SENSIBLE EXPLANATION OR ANYTHING.
So, where does this film go wrong? Well, how about from frame one, where Greta isn’t at all weirded out by a family who keeps a doll because they believe it’s possessed by their dead son – which, of course, is a more complicated scenario than I can get into right now. But, for all intents and purposes, we watch as Cohan makes snide remarks about the doll, and then fights off obvious attacks when she angers the spirit of Brahms. The attacks are never terrifying – but nor are they intriguing. Each moved piece of clothing is as predictable as the last, as Greta never even dares to think she can just up and leave at any point. Life is not like Scooby Doo – if I’m being harassed by a paranormal entity, I’m the f*#k outta that situation faster than…I don’t even care. Fill in that pun yourself.
I sit here typing as a broken, beaten man, after being subjected to one of the most generically plotted horror films I’ve seen in quite some time. Every push towards an inevitable showdown is suffocated by the goofiest looking evil doll in cinematic history, as Cohan tries to bring the inanimate object to life, pulling her best impression of Bradley Cooper in American Sniper (you know, the now infamous fake-baby scene). But there’s no horror to be found, as we’re simply subjected to a doll who moves from one location to another. That’s it. Don’t be fooled into thinking The Boy is the next Child’s Play – you’ll be brutally let down.
And yes, because movies can never be what they seem anymore, Stacey Menear’s wooden screenplay ends with a “shocking” twist that destroys everything previously established. Let’s not even discuss how the Heelshires don’t go over any of the rules specifically with Greta, or, you know, TELL HER THE TRUTH ABOUT ANYTHING, because whispering cryptic messages is a way more effective way of calming people down. If you’re looking for a movie that knows how to navigate haunted house themes with comedy and spooks, watch Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound and find yourself infinitely more entertained.
It’s not that Cohan is even that terrible – it’s that her character’s path is forcibly mapped in the most frustrating of ways. She flees to England when her boyfriend situation goes south, ends up watching after a pale-faced dummy, and finds agitation when her creepy ex barges in when no one is looking. Mix that with a local grocery “man” (played by the charmingly British Rupert Evans), and you’ve got a love four-way between three humans and a foolish toy – which I assure you doesn’t play out with any of the interest that sentence holds. The scenario is so laughably horrendous, even with a faux-emotional moment from the Heelshire family, that no one escapes this atrocious excuse for tension alive.
Knowing that numerous indie titles were passed over so that someone could greenlight The Boy makes me a sad horror fan. There is no redemption here. Scares aren’t pushed, Cohan is wasted, and the Brahms doll fails to achieve any iconic imagery. William Brent Bell did indeed make a film, but even with such an intricately detailed estate, there’s absolutely no personality to be found beyond detailed furnishings. It’s a film built on one goofily cobbled prop that can’t sustain a TWO-HOUR-LONG thriller, which renders itself useless in the very first minutes. No charisma, no character, and certainly no horror.
The Boy is wooden, lifeless, and blankly unterrifying - and no, I'm not describing the doll. I'm talking about the actual movie.