Some of my absolute favorite horror films over the past couple of years have been the ones that revel in the slow burn. 2009’s The House of the Devil, 2014’s Starry Eyes and The Babadook, and 2015’s Creep are all interesting horror films that are especially effective due to their disinterest in cutting to the chase. There’s always the notion that something terrible will happen in these films, and the tension continues to ramp up until the big reveal and climactic event finally occurs. In the case of these films, this tactic works superbly because the finales are satisfying. In the case of The Boy, the latest mainstream horror film release, the slow burn is attempted but unfortunately never really pays off.
The Boy centers around Greta (played by The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan), an American woman who travels to the countryside of England for a strikingly well-paid job as a nanny for an elderly couple known as the Heelshires. The Heelshires explain to Greta that they will actually be going away for a couple of months, and will be leaving their home, and young son, in Greta’s care. This may all sound dandy, but the Heelshire’s “young son” is actually a life-size porcelain doll named Brahms.
The Heelshires actually act as if the doll is their real son, and so they leave Greta with a list of strict rules on how to take care of Brahms, including when to wake him and dress him, a time devoted to reading to him, etc. Once the Heelshires leave for their vacation, Greta effectively forgets about Brahms and the set of rules she’s supposed to follow, as she understandably thinks that the whole situation is ludicrous. Soon thereafter, odd occurrences begin to take place in the house. Though Greta never really sees the doll do anything, she begins to believe that these occurrences are the doing of Brahms or some sort of spirit inhabiting the doll. From here on out, she actually begins to care for the doll and follow its strict rules. But is she imagining things, or is there actually something dark and sinister about Brahms?
This isn’t the most terribly convincing, interesting, or original premise, and so as the events unfold at a snail’s pace, you’re just left to patiently (likely rather impatiently) wait a good 75 percent of the film before anything really interesting happens. Unfortunately, The Boy is littered with too many misdirects in the way of dream sequences and increasingly uneventful jump scares. For rest of the movie, there really isn’t anything of note going on at all. The shocking and fairly well-done twist that occurs about 15 minutes before the end of The Boy is perhaps the only redeeming factor in the film and actually had me excited for a short time, though it is squandered by the excruciatingly underwhelming ten minutes that follow.
Outside of the plot, The Boy actually has some half-decent acting and surprisingly impressive cinematography here and there. Lauren Cohan may not be the next “scream queen,” but she gives an acceptable performance here as Greta. It’s an easily forgettable performance, but perhaps this isn’t entirely her fault, as it seems she wasn’t given all that much to work with, since the script is so bad and the premise is so ridiculous.
The other major character, and Greta’s love interest in the story, is Malcolm — the “grocery man,” as they put it. Malcolm is played well by Rupert Evans, and while at the outset his character is essentially just there for expository reasons, Evans ends up being quite charming the more we see of him. It is also apparent from the get-go that he has good chemistry with Cohan, and they work well together.
But again, outside of some minor positives in the acting and cinematography departments, The Boy just doesn’t have the plot, characters, or scares to be judged as a good horror film. Had it been well-paced and included some more interesting scenes throughout the beginning and middle stages of the film, perhaps it could have been. As it is, The Boy simply becomes increasingly boring as it goes along and while the twist is pretty effective, it unfortunately doesn’t save the rest of the film from mediocrity.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor