Annabelle, Brahms, Cinema, Diana Hardcastle, Film, Horror, Horror Film, Horror Movie, Jim Norton, Lauren Cohan, Movie Review, Rupert Evans, Scary Movie, The Boy, The Conjuring, The Devil Inside, The Walking Dead, William Brent Bell
“The Boy” is an American horror film directed by William Brent Bell, the man behind 2012’s “The Devil Inside”.
My concerns about “The Boy” were varied and many, because whilst the idea of a porcelain doll coming to life is both hilarious and horrible, the cast for this movie is pretty unknown, and how the doll could do any damage without the use of awful CGI was unclear. However, I can say with a degree of confidence that I enjoyed this film – that doesn’t mean that it was good per se, but I would watch it again and I had a fun time whilst I was in the theatre.
For anybody who hasn’t seen the trailer, I will give a brief outline of the plot. It’s a bit crackers, but it starts off in a relatively normal fashion. Greta (Lauren Cohan), a young woman from Wyoming, has taken a temporary job as a nanny in the UK to escape an abusive relationship. When she arrives at the home of the Heelshires (played by Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) she is eager to meet their son, Brahms, the young boy that she’s supposed to be looking after. The large house is a bit eerie, but not nearly as creepy as ‘the boy’ that she is introduced to – he’s a doll. Not a little boy with an attitude problem… a doll.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Heelshires are going away for a holiday, and they won’t be back for ‘months’. So it’s just going to be Greta, the big house, and the strange little dead-eyed doll for a very long period of time. Not a bad set-up all things considered. To make it even more fun, the boy has a list of rules that Greta must follow or… well, or else, I suppose. The first rule on that list is ‘no visitors’, so Greta is definitely not allowed a house party with all her American pals – shame, because this would also be a great set-up for a shameless comedy where the doll is defiled in ridiculous and sordid ways, only for the Heelshires to return from their holiday early and find him covered in lipstick and wearing a bra.
Greta is allowed to have contact with one person in the outside world (because otherwise how would she eat? Do Tesco delivery men count as visitors if they help you carry your shopping in?) – this person is Malcolm (Rupert Evans). Malcolm brings groceries to Greta so that she doesn’t die of starvation, and he also happens to be a strapping young man, just about Greta’s age. He’s probably the only man in a 1,000 mile radius attractive enough for Greta, so I’d say that she hit the jackpot. Malcolm probably thinks he’s hit the jackpot too because Greta sees literally no other men and won’t do for months, and she’s in a dodgy house with an even dodgier ghost doll, so she’ll probably get to a point of desperation for companionship whereby he can slime his way in. Sure enough, he does. Bravo.
There’s also a twist that I won’t get into here, but I think it’s fair to say that whilst it didn’t work perfectly in the film, it was a nice idea and gave the whole thing a level of quality that it wouldn’t otherwise have had. By that, I mean that this twist at least demonstrated that Bell had hopes for the film above the level of ‘money, money, please give me the money’. Without giving away what the twist was, I will say that I liked it, and that I was amused by it – it wasn’t particularly ground-breaking, but it made me smile and led to an entertaining finale.
The story is a little bit on the weird side, but this is a horror film so that’s to be expected. In all fairness, I liked the way that it evolved; it tried to rationalise the ridiculousness that was going on in the house by portraying Greta as a troubled person capable of making the supernatural element of the story up in her head, and it also explained why she didn’t run a mile when she first saw that Brahms was a doll, because (slight spoiler) she had lost a child in the past. There was some thought about how to make such a silly story palatable to an audience, which is more than you get in a lot of horror movies today. Of course, that doesn’t make “The Boy” a brilliant film, but it does mean that the audience is more likely to sit back and let the events happening on screen scare them, because they aren’t completely occupied by the idiocy of the characters and the inevitable horror-movie logic.
Also, it was nice that when the doll started moving and tormenting Greta, she didn’t just assume that it was out to kill her. Instead, she treat the whole experience as though it was something to marvel at; this made sense and was refreshing, because in reality she had no reason to think that the spirit of an eight-year-old boy would want to harm her, especially not through the form of a doll.
If a real person actually experienced a paranormal experience of this kind then it would be very creepy to begin with, because it is inherently unbelievable and also makes you question your mental health, but eventually you would start to see it as some kind of miracle. In reality it would provide some sort of knowledge that there was an afterlife, and if you could prove that it was happening – and that you could communicate with the dead – you’d probably end up as a celebrity! (Are you starting to wish that your toys would come to life? Because I’m sold).
Another thing that I liked about the story was that it wasn’t completely predictable – it was slow-paced for the most part and it tried to make you question exactly what was happening by never showing the doll move. You were in the same position as the protagonist, because you knew the doll had gone from A to B, but you never knew how, and thus you had to come to your own conclusions. I actually thought that it was a “Conjuring” type of situation, (because in “The Conjuring” the Annabelle doll moves, but the doll itself isn’t possessed, it’s just being moved by a spirit in the house), and that the spirit controlling the doll was going to be an evil being attempting to wear down Greta. Spoiler alert again – I was wrong.
Despite the fact that I could find the positives in “The Boy”, I did find it annoying that the dream sequences accounted for most of the actual scares; this happens a lot nowadays, and it’s always frustrating because it feels cheap and it’s hard to feel tense when you know that what’s happening will have no consequences. I know that the film is trying to pretend that certain moments aren’t actually dreams, and if you fall for that then maybe the jump scares within those moments will work, but this trick happens so often in the horror genre that for me the words ‘it’s all a dream’ may as well be written in blood on the walls.
The jump scares were a big problem throughout, because although I’m not a fan of them in the first place, I still like to be surprised at least once by a creative one over the course of a ninety minute horror film. Sadly, none of the jump scares had their desired effect in “The Boy”, because whilst I did jump, I didn’t jump because I was scared or even surprised (most of the jump scares are on the trailer for God’s sake), I jumped because people around me jumped and because the ‘scary’ moments were accompanied by stupidly loud noises! As a person I am nearly always tense, and I think it’s fair to say that I’m jumpy, so the fact that a jump scare made me jump is 100% predictable, regardless of whether or not it actually worked in the way that it was intended to.
Still, what this film lacks in fear it makes up for in comedy, although it’s true that this isn’t always intentional. It’s an incredibly spoofable movie, so much so that at several points I found myself imagining what a “Scary Movie” version of certain scenes would look like. It’s hard not to have childish thoughts of Brahms getting an erection when Greta gives him a kiss goodnight, and it’s even more difficult not to imagine him naked when he goes into the bathroom as Greta is taking a shower. I know that I should be immersed in the movie and be thinking about it from a fearful point of view, but I just couldn’t take it that seriously when it set itself up so perfectly to be a wonderful crude comedy. This might sound like a criticism, and for the sake of fairness it really should be, but I don’t offer it as one. I offer it as one of the many reasons that I genuinely enjoyed this film.
A lot of the film’s problems inevitably stemmed from poor direction, as certain scenes lost all impact when the screen would blur and time would suddenly slow down. There wasn’t really a reason for this to happen in the context of the film, because when it happened nothing was chasing Greta or closing in on her, and instead of creating extra drama it killed the little tension that had been built. Luckily, this didn’t happen very often, I think it may have occurred three times over the course of the film, but when it did it was noticeably out of place and bordered on ridiculous.
Nevertheless, I think that the performances went some way to hiding the oddities of Bell’s direction, because whilst they weren’t amazing, they were pretty decent. Most people will know Lauren Cohan from “The Walking Dead”, and I think that because it’s a popular show they will expect that she can act. However, I came into this film with the opposite perspective, because I think that the actors on “The Walking Dead” are quite weak and are ultimately only revered because fans of the show wear rose-tinted glasses. So, I was pleased that she gave what I felt was a good performance given that the script didn’t offer much to work with. She actually had some sort of rapport with the doll towards the middle of the film, and she did a good job of demonstrating that her character felt like she might be losing it when she was chatting to the doll. I thought she was more than acceptable, and I’d like to see what she can do in a better film.
I thought Rupert Evans was okay as well, although he wasn’t as believable towards the end of the film. He provided the comic relief in the film (for those members of the audience who didn’t find most scenes to be comical) and his delivery was quite good. When he put on a voice pretending to be Brahms and gave the doll a high-five I found it pretty hilarious, and I think that his performance went a long way to endearing the audience towards Greta, because the fact that he was so likeable and that she liked him meant that she seemed nice by association.
At the end of the day, “The Boy” is a horror film that isn’t very horrific, but that still manages to be entertaining. I’m not saying that it’s great or even good really, but I had an awesome time watching it. I would definitely recommend seeing it with friends and having a laugh about it, and I will probably watch it again, so who am I to criticise? In general, people go to see a horror movie because they want to have a good time – they want adrenaline to pump around their bodies so that they can simulate a high without drugs and/or exercise, or they want to be able to laugh at how crazy people act in crazy situations. So, in my view, “The Boy” offers what horror fans want, even if it isn’t very scary.