STX Entertainment’s first movie of 2016 is The Boy, a fun little thriller about a woman who must babysit a really creepy looking doll. Being the second wide-release horror film to come out this year (the first being the disappointing ghost story The Forest), it’s understandable to be wary. We all know that horror films released in January aren’t exactly known to be of the highest quality, but The Boy proves to be one of the more successful entries in the evil doll sub-genre, poking fun at itself at all the right moments. It is quite a bit of fun, despite its lack of inspiration.
Greta (The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan) takes a job as a nanny somewhere in the United Kingdom at a large mansion owned by the Heelshires (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle). Upon arriving, she learns that the child she was supposed to be caring for is actually a porcelain doll named Brahms, who was made in the likeness of the Heelshires’ son, who died in a fire in 1991. The elderly couple treat the doll as if he were their real son, and soon leave him in Greta’s hands with a strict set of rules, which she immediately ignores. Keeping her company while the Heelshires are away is Malcolm (Rupert Evans, Hellboy, The Canal), their grocery
We spend much of The Boy watching Cohan walk around the mansion, and while you’d think that would be boring, director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside, Stay Alive) does a decent job at keeping you interested. Wisely stepping away from screenwriting duties (he has written every single film he has directed before this, and all of them have been less than stellar), Bell manages to instill a good amount of fun into newcomer Stacey Menear’s script. Menear borrows from a slew of other horror films, so the lack of originality is regrettable. There’s nothing in The Boy that we haven’t seen before.
Unfortunately Bell also relies a bit too heavily on jump scares and not one, but two (two!) fake-out dream sequences. These techniques can prove tempting to novice directors, but they ultimately cheapen the experience. It’s disappointing to see Bell still resorting to these scare tactics after having made films for over a decade. To be perfectly honest, The Boy isn’t all that scary and if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen a large chunk of the first two acts, which is unfortunate. The jump scares overwhelm but The Boy somehow still manages to keep you involved in what is happening on screen.
Cohan is a compelling lead and it’s nice to see her outside of her comfort zone, playing a vulnerable woman who has suffered a recent tragedy. Cohan has the difficult task of making us believe that she believe this doll is real, and she is certainly up to the task. The real treat in the film is Evans, who provides much of the comic relief and provides a potential love interest for Greta. Norton and Hardcastle are equally entertaining, making the most of their brief time on screen. Hardcastle is particularly good.
Taking a page from last year’s Sinister 2, The Boy brings in a violent ex-husband in an unnecessary subplot that seems to have been added to pad the movie’s runtime rather than offer any real sense of danger to Greta. As mentioned before, Sinister 2 isn’t the only movie The Boy borrows from, but to say any more would spoil much of the third act. It’s not exactly the most inspired turn of events, but that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable.
The Boy is a goofy film and it knows it. It’s hard to take a tale about an evil doll seriously (Hell, even the Child’s Play franchise eventually turned to comedy). It has a sense of humor about itself while still generating a sufficient amount of menace to the proceedings. Audiences may be taken aback by the silliness of the whole affair, but if they can just go along for the ride they may find themselves pleasantly surprised. The Boy is not a great film, but you could do a lot worse this month. It’s worth the price of admission, or at least a rental.