An American nanny is shocked that her new English family's boy is actually a life-sized doll. After she violates a list of strict rules, disturbing events make her believe that the doll is really alive.
Let’s face facts…it is inevitable that bad horror films and the new beginning of a movie season go together as systematically as skeleton bones to an unmarked grave. In either case, both scenarios are routinely realized and does not look to change at any time in the immediate future. Director William Brent Bell’s (‘The Devil Inside’) latest banal boofest **‘The Boy’** is basically business as usual in terms of registering as a flaccid fright fable pitted in the dumping ground of released duds in the relatively new year. In essence, ‘The Boy’ is one stillborn terrorizing tyke born out of artificial and tired creepy conventions.
Sure, **The Boy** has its share of atmospheric chills and, as a production, it exudes a tension-filled anxiousness courtesy of the polished Gothic-induced vibes in gives off in its sinister-looking set designs. Nevertheless, **The Boy** fails to hold our attention where it truly counts in structured, solid storytelling and viable psychological thrills. Instead, Bell’s pat knee-shaking narrative spends its time focusing on the familiar and flawed cliches involving meager melodramatic plot developments, recycled unnatural occurrences, the movie’s harried heroine and her beleaguered backstory and annoying jolts and tiresome false jump starts in manufactured suspense. Of course, ‘The Boy’s panic playground for its horrific happenings takes place in a spacious and darkened manor populated by eccentric occupants and their devoted, demonic doll (hence, ‘the boy’ in question).
American Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan, ‘The Walking Dead’) travels across the pond to start over in the quaint English countryside as she leaves behind the fragments of a bad relationship back the States. Greta looks to pursue a job opportunity as a nanny for the Heelshire couple (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) at their expansive estate. The Heelshires need Greta for tending to their son Brahms’s personal affairs. The unusual discovery from the newly hired nanny, however, is that Greta’s task is to watch Brahms, a porcelain doll and NOT a human little boy. The Heelshires, out of touch with reality, treats the inanimate tot as a real son. Nevertheless, a job is a job so Greta minds the toy tyke when his ‘parents’ decide to go away for the holiday.
Thankfully, Greta learns about the histrionics pertaining to the Heelshires and Brahms through their deliveryman Malcolm (Rupert Evans). The Heelshires’ disillusionment originated nearly two decades ago when the original and real-life Brahms died in a tragic fire. This, of course, reveals the questionable quirks about the boy’s maturing parents’ behavior and denial mode in substituting the doll conveniently for their belated and beloved son Brahms. Greta is determined to do right by the Heelshires and treat Brahms with the compassion they imaged her duties would entail. Importantly, Greta must make a good impression on the unassuming boy doll as the Heelshires warned that Brahms has had his troubles with past nannies.
At first Greta is pensive to react to Brahms and leaves him sitting idle in the corner. The Heelshires had given specific instructions on how to handle their precious “boy” as they have naturally spoiled him with amounts of attention. Greta eventually finds the nerve to cater to Brahms’s every caretaking whims and soon expresses a fondness for him in the process. So far, so good, right?
**The Boy** certainly has its moments of shock value but the sluggish story feels lukewarm for the most part. Bell and screenwriter Stacey Manear cobble together a mysterious and moody horror thriller that is somewhat old-fashioned as it relies on tension-building tactics involving shadowy hallways, dim-light rooms and innuendo scares that suggest more meat to the bone when spotlighting everything from Brahms’s aura of the present to the deceased Brahms’s existence of the past. Both Bell and Manear arm **The Boy’s** leading lady Cohan/Greta with personal issues meant to carry over to the English landscape but the malaise she possesses comes off as matter-of-factly. And who really did not telegraph Greta’s ex-main squeeze Cole showing up in England to claim his woman’s heart only to meet some static concerning the clingy Brahms?
It is such a shame that The Boy could not capitalize any further on its strange and hypnotic inclinations. After all, this off-kilter narrative had the makings for a psychological masking of paranoia and possessiveness but never quite taps into the underscored hedonistic hold that exists between Greta and toyish tot Brahms or Brahms and the salacious spells of the manor where his dubious presence exists. Sadly, the slow burn effectiveness of The Boy stutters especially when revisiting the titillating genre of disturbing dolls and the mayhem they spin towards their hapless human counterparts (yeah, at least **Chucky** and **Magic’s** dummy Fats had some genuine gory gumption to bring to the terrifying table).
What is maddening about **The Boy** is the wasted potential of what perhaps could have been a whacked-out gem that exploited the surreal circumstances of mental and emotional loss and elusive reality. Instead, the intended suspense is as solitary and stiff as the bratty Brahms’s compact body.
**The Boy** (2016)
1 hr. 37 mins.
Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Diana Hardcastle, James Russell, Jim Norton
Directed by: William Brent Bell
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng 2016
Lakeshore Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment, Diamond Films, STX Entertainment by William Brent Bell, Stacey Menear.
Stars: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, James Russell.
Genres: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Keywords: suicide england fire loss of loved one country house shower nanny mask murder mansion doll burn victim secret passageway broken mirror
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