Oh, what have we here? Yet another androgynous little doll, scared caretaker and mysterious events that could only be explained by the paranormal. It’s amazing how the same basic concept can be recycled so many times, but I suppose January needs movies. At least, those were my thoughts when I sat down to watch The Boy. Then, as it started, I found myself thinking at least a few times, “huh, I don’t hate this after all!” Those thoughts were surprising in themselves, but what is even more so is that there is actually a great deal about this film to admire. Sure, my eyes might be filtered by a film that is slightly above average January quality, but perhaps the inside of this doll isn’t so hollow after all.
The film centers on Greta (Lauren Cohan), a nanny looking for a new start as she makes a European escape from America. She finds herself under the supervision of the stern Heelshire family (played to icy perfection by Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle), who after loosing their son Brahms long ago in a fire, have constructed a doll in his image. Greta is to take care of this doll as if it were the child himself and is assigned a specific list of rules as the Heelshires leave for a vacation. Initially, finding the whole sham as ridiculous as it sounds, and sharing in her boredom with Malcolm (Rupert Evans), the family grocery boy, Greta starts to become uneasy. She starts to have strange nightmares as odd phenomena occur throughout the house, creating something of a motherly bond between herself and Brahms.
It is in this psychological bond that the film weaves its most interesting threads. A great deal of the movie is much more deliberately paced than the advertising might lead one to believe, but the slow burn is surprisingly effective. We get to see Greta’s mind gradually turn, a transformation anchored very well by a strong leading performance by Cohan. She’s both sensible and vulnerable, and the script ensures that there’s enough richness to her backstory to make her decently believable. Evans is also solid here, acting as a nice sounding board, whose chemistry with Cohen is fairly believable, even if it is bolstered by the isolated setting.
The film also creates a solid sense of atmosphere as it unfolds. Director William Brent Bell, who was responsible for the awful The Devil Inside, has a solid eye for location driven horror as it turns out. The house is as much of a character as the people in it, its haunting design providing many opportunities for spine tingling moments of paranoia. It’s not a film that indulges in cheap jump scares to build suspense, more relying on Greta’s perception of events that could be entirely normal to fuel the idea that Brahms might be alive. Because the answers aren’t handed out on a silver platter, the film effectively leads it’s audience along it’s twisted little path.
Unfortunately, all of the solid work done by the first two acts is essentially surrendered by the horrendous third act. Greta’s abusive ex-boyfriend James (James Russell) comes into the picture, and he’s just the most cardboard, stock, silly villain you could find in such a film. Once he grunts and slaps around for a while, the film finally reveals its hand, and it’s the cheesiest, most cliched twist that could have been thought of. All of the intriguing psychological questions the film poses fly right out the window, and it depends into the same boring, silly, haunted house chase movie that every other January horror movie falls into. Frankly, it essentially ruins the entire thing.
It’s a major shame that The Boy crash lands so spectacularly in its third act, because the majority of it is on its way to being a surprisingly subversive and enjoyable little horror tale. It’s well acted, and looks great if nothing else, and as a Halloween rental you could certainly do worse. That said, I think if they make an Annabelle vs. The Boy spin off, I’ll pass.