The “scary doll” sub-genre of horror is something that’s been outdated for at least two decades. After the first Child’s Play, it’s become kind of difficult to make your toys scary again. Like, if Barbie is gonna attack me, I’ll just punt that little bitch across the room. It’s just not a scary antagonist. I will admit though, I’m a fan of 2014’s haunted doll flick Annabelle. What can I say, that movie is kind of freaky in the right conditions. But after that film, I said “Okay, now that’s it. No more of these.” Which is why I could have cared less about this year’s The Boy. So, does this film fall in line as one of the better scary doll stories, or is this just another forgettable entry? Let’s take a look.
THE BOY follows Greta (Lauren Cohan), an American nanny who flies to the UK for a new job, as well as to escape some problems at home. When Greta arrives to her new residence, she finds that the odd elderly couple who called her have hired her to watch their “son” Brahms, a large, porcelain doll. Finding it funny at first, Greta soon realizes that the couple are not joking, treating Brahms as if he were any other child. Greta not only has to watch over Brahms, but she also has to follow a particular list of rules. As the couple go away on a trip, she is left alone with the doll. She also befriends the grocery delivery boy Malcolm (Rupert Evans), who is her one anchor to reality. Greta doesn’t take the job very seriously at first, but as things get stranger and stranger, she finds that this whole thing may not be as crazy as she originally thought.
I really appreciate the atmosphere of this film. There are moments when it tries to be scary and jump-inducing, but it typically tends to fail, but it really works when it’s going for the creepiness. There’s a lot of scenes with the doll that make you feel uneasy, creating a very creepy, unnerving environment. The pacing of the film is that of a slow-burn, atmospheric horror flick, so when it goes for creepy it meshes really well. This film is odd in the fact that it tries to go for two different things. It goes for the slow-burn, creepy approach which as I said works well, but then it also tries to go for your typical studio horror flick, with loud noises and jump scares that are so predictable and silly that it’s eye roll-inducing. It’s very odd. But I’d be lying if I said that the creepiness didn’t work.
The cast here is surprisingly really great as well. Lauren Cohan, who most of you will recognize as being Maggie from The Walking Dead, has a lot of screen presence. For a one-note character, she remains pretty lively throughout. Cohan is an English actress, but she’s able to hold an impressive American accent. The accent isn’t the same accent from her Walking Dead character, mind you. She’s able to do this less-southern more mid-western accent pretty impressively. I’m also beginning to be impressed by Rupert Evans, who most of you may know as Agent Myers from the first Hellboy movie or the main character from The Canal, which I know a lot people liked but I wasn’t into. He has a lot of charm and charisma that is missing from your typical horror film. The two leads give performances that help bring this film a bit above your typical, dull Hollywood jump-scare fest. The fact that these guys can act at all puts it a notch above the typical Hollywood horror film.
The thing that I LOVE about this movie is the big twist. I’m not going to give away, but it’s…it’s something. I’m typically really good at figuring out twists way ahead of time, I don’t know why but I just am, but I did not see this one coming. Is the twist dumb? Yeah, absolutely. It’s fucking stupid as hell. But, GodDAMN is it shocking and makes for an awesome climax. It’s this odd mix of creepy and hysterical. Mainly hysterical, but it’s so much fun. I’d watch this whole film again with somebody just to see their reaction to that twist. I’m sure a lot of people are going to hate it, and I totally understand why, but I just thought it was this big jolt of WTF that the movie needed to sustain itself for the rest of the runtime. Like I said, it’s a pretty silly twist, but it’s so much fun that I love it anyway.
Like I said earlier, when this film is going for creepy, it nails it. But when it goes for jump scares? It falls so embarrassingly flat on it’s face. Every single jump scare is telegraphed and it makes for some extremely boring sequences. This creates a very uneven pacing throughout. In the first half of the film, they kept doing something very odd. At least two or three times, they would do some jump scare, but it would just be a dream sequence. She would walk up to a painting and BOO! then she wakes up. Another time, she walks to the doll and BOO! then she wakes up. I kept wondering if anything was actually going to happen, or if it would just be 90-minutes of her waking up. Thankfully, there are some creepier moments later on, but the first half has some painfully weak scares.
While the performances are great, they don’t fully overcome the flat characters. Each character in here is so flat and dull, it’s hard to give a shit. You give a shit because of the actors, not the writing on the characters. Throughout the film they try to set up some backstory for Greta and I could’ve cared less. Every single time we get exposition on the phone it slows down to a painfully boring level. I really would’ve appreciated some good backstory, but the backstory for her character is so lame and predictable, you could probably guess the entire arc without even seeing the film. Her arc is literally set up by Malcolm “reading her gum”. I’m serious. It’s that thin of a story.
Also, I want to add that although the climax is so stupidly entertaining, I HATE the very last scene of this movie. It’s so unnecessary and dumb, it almost entirely ruins the third act. It doesn’t ruin it, but it comes so close to it. This movie had no business trying to set up a sequel, but I guess the studio just had to do it, no matter how forced and nonsensical it was.
This movie is far from perfect, but there’s still enough going on of value. The characters are bland, the pacing is uneven at times and some of the scares fall incredibly flat, but the stuff of merit here is very strong. The slow-burn, creepy atmosphere works wonders for the storytelling, adding some great tension to certain scenes. The two leads also act much better than you’d expect, breathing some much needed life into the characters and script. It also helps that the twist, as silly as it is, is so entertaining and shocking. Like I said, some people are going to hate the twist, but I love the hell out of it. Despite the issues, there’s enough here to recommend it. It’s a solid rental for an evening inside. It’s not for everybody, but you should give it a chance.