An old, dark house, a creepy old couple, a beautiful young woman brought into look after what she thinks will be a small child but turns out to be something far more sinister. If these things intrigue you and you want to see a film like this, dripping with tension and nail-biting suspense, then go see The House of The Devil. If you just want to be thoroughly entertained though then The Boy will certainly do.
Okay I’ve already told you the plot other than the fact that the small child who needs looking after is a life-size china doll called Brahms. He has a set of rules that must be followed or he will turn into a hideous razor toothed monster Gremlins-style. Okay that last bit isn’t true, but it is lovely seeing a movie with the old follow-the-rules-or-else trope. It may not be original but at least it helps give the plot a forward momentum. Well it would if you ever got to see the rules properly, or if they were read out loud so we knew what the nanny was failing to do, but that doesn’t happen. The only rule we really get a grip on is that she’s meant to kiss him goodnight, which comes into its own later on.
The creepy old couple do not hang around much past the opening act, they are desperate to go away on holiday. So they hightail it out of there in the same way May and I did to the cinema the first chance we got to dump our dog, Mylo, on someone last Sunday. The vast majority of the film falls on the shoulders of Lauren Cohan as the American nanny looking to escape from the rest of the world. Whatever The Boy‘s problems are Cohan is not one of them. The juxtaposition of her modern American look to the olde worlde of the gothic mansion and its crusty characters works really well. Whilst she is initially mocking and disregarding of the situation she finds herself in, when Cohan does start taking her job seriously, and gets scared out of her wits, she’s never hysterical or irritating. Instead she is just really engaged in what she’s doing. It sounds like a simple thing for an actor to do – to engage with her surroundings with her performance – but it would be easy to not do this and just play the role as bonkers and shrill. However when weird stuff starts happening with Brahms, Cohan seems more to enjoy it than be fearful off it. Later when she picks up the boy and holds him to her, she does it with such intimacy and care that you can believe she is falling for this toy. Rupert Evans also pops up as kind of handy man so at least Cohan isn’t stuck talking to a an answering Brahms throughout the whole film.
So Cohan is really good. This is lucky because quite a lot of the movie seems more interested in what she looks like in a towel or knickers than building atmosphere. The film IS beautifully shot and keeps the house looking interesting throughout with lots of views through keyholes and into dark attics. This is good news considering director William Brent Bell’s last film was the much derided found footage feature The Devil Inside, but considering old dark houses virtually have atmosphere build into the walls there is surprisingly little of it. That’s not to say the film isn’t engaging because it is, it’s just not very scary.
Not that I think that a horror movie has to scary. It helps, but it’s not the be all and end all of horror. Which is fortunate – there are some jump scares but that’s not the same thing as a good, genuine fright. However the central mystery, that of is The Boy alive, is very compelling. And things move at a quick enough pace that the mystery is constantly demanding your attention with clever little clues and red herrings driving the narrative forward. Is the reveal satisfactory? I think that will depend on the viewer. For what it’s worth I liked it.
So maybe The Boy is no great shakes. It’s not the best killer doll movie – God is there a really good killer doll movie? I really liked Annabelle but I’m in the minority and suspect I’m just wrong there. Various Child’s Play films? Nah. Stuart Gordon’s Dolls? Magic? Trilogy of Terror? They’re all a little hokey. Let’s settle on the opening of first The Conjuring as the high water mark for terrifying children’s toys.
The Boy also isn’t the best young Nanny-under-threat movie – I love House of the Devil as I mentioned before but the best one of that sub genre is, and probably always will be, The Innocents with Deborah Kerr.
What The Boy is is a lot of fun. It’s brisk and doesn’t take itself so seriously that we end up watching our heroine wailing in the corner for half an hour. And in Lauren Cohan we have a genuinely interesting screen presence, free from her Walking Dead co-stars and given a chance to shine. Okay so her maim co-star is an inanimate object, The Boy not Rupert Evans, but surely that makes it even trickier to pull off?