Because what could be creepier than a little porcelain doll with life like eyes, who may or may not be alive?
A young American named Greta (Lauren Cohan) takes a job as a nanny for an 8-year-old boy in a remote English village. To her surprise, Greta learns that the child of her new employers is a life-size doll. They care for the doll as if it was human, which helps the couple to cope with the death of their own son 20 years earlier. When Greta violates a list of strict rules, a series of disturbing and inexplicable events bring her worst fears to life, leading her to believe that the doll is alive.
January, you are a cruel, cruel mistress. The movie industry has long been dumping their yearly junk, in the only month worse than February all year. The summer blockbuster season keeps expanding, but January is still the bacterial breeding ground of awful film. We were met with our first taste of horror in 2016 with The Forest earlier this month, and now it’s time for round 2. The Boy is the newest genre film to usher in 2016, begging the question, why are these horror films being released just after Christmas and New Years? The staple in modern horror is the good old jump scare. Gone are the days when creepy atmosphere, terrifying imagery, and a good setting, are the most important ingredients.
Instead, it’s all about shock value. Trying to squeeze as much blood, as many jump scares, and as little originality as possible is the new goal for genre filmmakers looking to make a quick buck for their studios. This new brand of horror is effectively killing the genre and burning it to the ground. Enter The Boy, a film with an intriguing, if not wholly unoriginal concept, about a doll that may or may not be possessed by the spirit of a troubled young boy who had passed in an accidental fire. The hope was that this film would skip the menial horror tropes and bring with it an ounce of atmospheric terror, unfortunately it does not take long to realize that this is not the case, and we are simply left with more of the same.
The idea of a possessed doll is hardly an original concept in the horror genre. In fact it’s one of the most overused storylines to date. So when a horror movie surrounding a possessed doll opens in January the skepticism is going to be high. Call it cynicism if you must, but with the heap of nonsense that is produced and released in January year after year, it seems the appropriate response. The Boy had some promising marketing, showcasing a new take on the haunted doll, but the problem here lies with the script, which is so over run with cliche, the film becomes an embarrassing pit of predictable twists with very few sincere frights. From the opening scene the film promises nothing original and sticks to it. We are introduced to our lead character, who is just another damsel in distress on the run from her rocky past, and way weary from her travels. She arrives upon an estate so unrealistically creepy that to believe any sane human being would travel across an ocean to commit to a babysitting gig in a place as old and eerie as this house, is a bit of a stretch. what follows is a series of outlandish situations laced with plot holes, inconceivable decision making, and predictable turns that could be spotted from a satellite. The story is so blatantly unoriginal at times that it feels as if it is stealing whole scenes from superior genre films.
The actors are admirable in their efforts to save the story from itself. Lauren Cohan and Rupert Evans are both compelling in their own right, and have solid palpable chemistry. The two carry the film, and for the first hour or so The Boy is a decent, slow burn with only a few sell out jump scares. It isn’t particularly glamorous, mostly claustrophobic, this is not the most beautiful film cinematically. Set to rely on story and performances, the film’s lackluster story unfortunately overshadows the more than serviceable performances.
The third act is where this film completely falls apart. The director and writer do a disservice to the characters with the introduction of a side plot regarding domestic violence, which is a topic not meant to be subservient. The film has it’s moments of true terror, but ultimately falls prey to familiarity. With a premise that was shaky at best coming in, knowing the story was likely to be a conventional cliche, the hope was that it would be self aware enough to rise above the mundane and turn in an effort that would properly honor the features that it so blatantly steals from, but instead it dumbs down the story and ratchets up the action in an effort to play to a wider audience. This is the downfall to so many horror films today. The Boy is awkward in its storytelling and the actors do what they can with dodgy at best dialogue, but at the end of the day it’s simply not all that good. The effort appears to be there but the director decides to abandon restraint and sinks to the lowest common denominator. The Boy is not shameless enough to be campy, but not scary enough to be considered good horror, so what we are left with is half of a decent movie, and little satisfaction to go around.