Two roads diverged in a film, and it… it takes the one less cool.
Accepting a nanny job outside of a remote English village, Greta (Lauren Cohan) travels from America to the stately stone manor of the Heelshires (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) a move intended to put some distance between her and stalker ex-boyfriend Cole (Ben Robson). After being dropped off by a taxi, Greta meets Malcolm (Rupert Evans), a local delivery boy from town that knows… things. The Heelshires themselves arrive shortly thereafter, a regal couple who introduce their son Brahms — who turns out to be a life-sized, fully dressed porcelain doll. After Mrs. Heelshire declares “Brahms has chosen you,” a strict set of rules and scheduling is presented before the couple departs. Greta shirks her job initially until she realizes someone or something unseen is in the house with her, playing tricks on her, but when she follows the rules, everything is fine again. Is she losing her mind, or is the spirit of Brahms residing within?
As a psychological thriller, trailers for The Boy suggest the doll is somehow alive… or at least the characters in the movie believe so. Using low angles, heavy shadows, and a generally haunted house atmosphere, the film drips with all of the spookiness one could want. But the real meat and potatoes of the story is discovering the truth: is this all a trick, a supernatural occurrence, or the main character losing her mind to escape a worse reality? Is any of it real at all?
Headliner Lauren Cohan is no stranger to the horror scene. From her current stint on “The Walking Dead” and her previous recurring television gig as the beautiful-but-despised relic hunter Bela Talbot on “Supernatural,” it’s almost weird to see her play the proverbial victim — but it also means we know she can convincingly step up when she must. The Boy boasts a good cast, but any conveyed terror is shouldered by Cohan, often against nothing visible or an imagined dread of what’s about to happen; think back to John Cusack’s performance in 1408. This is where the film excels as it builds toward a third-act reveal… which is where the film detours into problems.
It isn’t that the is-it-or-isn’t-it supernatural is finally answered — it’s clear the idea was set up from the beginning — but one could imagine how much more interesting and cinematic had it gone as expected. What also hurts the film is the implications of that reveal; it becomes rather obvious that other things that one would expect to happen simply didn’t and certainly could have.. or perhaps should have considering this was the intent. While it doesn’t diminish the thrilling elements of the climax, it still feels like a disappointment from what we were all secretly hoping was about to go down.
The Boy is PG-13, another thing that unfortunately pulls its punch. Fans of Cohan and spooky flicks will find plenty to enjoy here — enough to give a positive recommendation for — but it will always feel like a missed opportunity not getting to see what we really hoped for.
And that would have made all the difference.
3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four