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.
A prequel set before the haunting of the Lambert family that reveals how gifted psychic Elise Rainier reluctantly agrees to use her ability to contact the dead in order to help a teenage girl who has been targeted by a dangerous supernatural entity.
Greta is a young American woman who takes a job as a nanny in a remote English village, only to discover that the family's 8-year-old is a life-sized doll that the parents care for just like a real boy, as a way to cope with the death of their actual son 20 years prior. After violating a list of strict rules, a series of disturbing and inexplicable events bring Greta's worst nightmare to life, leading her to believe that the doll is actually alive. Written by
Highly entertaining but fundamentally uneven and flawed, "The Boy" is a mish-mash of ideas that are fun to watch, but don't quite come together...
You ever watch a film, and at a certain point, you get the feeling that the final product is obviously a heavily edited (if not outright- butchered) re-working and simplification of an otherwise great idea? Like a studio-suit-type got their hands on a really cool and original script that defied convention... but then that same studio- suit got cold feet, and had a legion of ghost- writers re-work it into something more generic and "audience friendly"?
Yup. That's the feeling I got watching "The Boy."
Don't get me wrong, there's still fun to be had. And despite its rather obvious faults, I was thoroughly entertained and had a good time. It's just... so obviously a great concept that feels like it's been tampered with by studio committees and producer interference to dumb it down to certain level that can only be described as "lowest common denominator." At times I could even swear that the film feels like it was the product of two or three different scripts that were haphazardly mushed together in a last- ditch effort to try and make it more of a broadly-appealing (aka "generic") thriller than a unique spine- tingler.
The film follows Greta (the adorable Lauren Cohan), an American woman who has been hired to act as nanny for a prim and proper older couple's child overseas in the UK. However, Greta is taken aback after learning that the "boy" is actually a child-sized doll that is treated by his "parents" as if he was a real, living being. He's fed and taught lessons and kissed goodnight... a routine Greta is informed she must definitely follow. But when she begins to stray and ignore the rules set for her, strange things begin to happen, and it becomes all too clear that the doll might just be more "real" and "alive" than she could have imagined.
The film works for the most part mainly due to the charm of the two lead cast-members, and for the well-executed visual storytelling.
Cohan is a lot of fun as our lead, and she's a great choice for the role of Greta... she's able to convey her initial annoyance over her situation, the paranoia of her character as the story progresses, and even has a lot of really good pathos due to her fairly good development and backstory. And co-star Rupert Evans (probably best known for his roles in the delightful "Hellboy" and the underrated "The Canal") is charming as can be as Malcolm, a local grocery man who delivers food to the home and develops feelings for Greta as the story progresses. They're the main focus for much of the running time of the film, and they're both perfect in their roles, creating a lot of care from the audience.
Director William Brent Bell also does a wonderful job in his visual storytelling, and he elevates the material. I honestly haven't been a fan of his work in the past... "Stay Alive" was a lazy and very condescending attempt to cash-in on the growing popularity of video-games over the last 20 years. And "The Devil Inside" was a terrible mis-judgement, with its infamous final act still viewed as a low- point in the world of horror. But here, Bell is actually able to get a lot of great work done, and show he does have the chops to make a good creep-fest if he really puts his mind to it. He revels in the atmospheric visuals of the old, enormous house and nearby woods. He glides the camera organically in slow, lingering shots that are a breath of fresh-air compared to the lousy "shaky cam" nonsense polluting other horror flicks. And he even for the most part strays away from relying too much on loud jumps and noises. I particularly admired a wonderful sequence where Greta tries to demonstrate to Malcolm that the doll can move on its own... great stuff there.
It's just a shame that the film is dragged down so badly due to its issues with the script and storyline.
Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised that if at one point in development, the film was more of a psychological drama about an emotionally damaged person forging a deep connection with an inanimate doll... because this film's best moments- and indeed the moments that feel the most complete and developed- are the sequences where Greta begins to learn about what's happening and become more and more attached to the idea that the doll just might be alive. It's wonderful in certain scenes, and it feels disturbing in all the right ways.
But then other sequences contradict this... particularly the scenes that play more as straight-forward horror. They feel like scenes out of a different film. And without spoiling it, the final act feels like it comes out of left-field in a very inorganic way... almost as if the climax from a completely different script was tacked-on and retro-fitted to feature the characters from this film. It almost gave me whiplash to see how much it changed in the third act.
If they had just ran with the idea of a woman in a house being forced to take care of a creepy doll like a real child, and explored the ideas of isolation and paranoia associated with the situation... it could've been a great film. (Almost a "horror version" of the wonderful indie flick "Lars and the Real Girl.") But the tacked-on scenes added to manufacture generic haunted-house thrills diminishes the impact... as does the frankly bizarre climax.
Still, the performances and atmospheric direction make it worth seeing for fans of horror, and I would by lying if I said I didn't get a kick out of it.
I give "The Boy" a slightly-above-average 6 out of 10. It doesn't quite come together 100%, but it's definitely a fun time.
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