Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans
Review written by Tom Bevis
Let’s take a minute and talk about Child’s Play, the grandaddy of all contemporary creepy doll movies. Rumor has it that Don Mancini’s original script played more to the ambiguous, carefully crafted in a way that led its audience to believe that the true killer in the picture was the seemingly innocent Andy Barclay, using the Charles Lee Ray shooting as a mood-setting MacGuffin and relegating the unsettling talking doll as a creepy set piece and convenient scapegoat, a surreal metaphor for Andy’s prepubescent rage. That is, until the closing scene where Mancini reveals the shocker: there was definitely more than meets the eye with that Good Guy Buddy.
Without delivering any short shrift onto the horror classic, there’s no doubt that the ambiguous response would have made for a better movie, and that the constant tugging in one direction only to be thrown in another at the film’s conclusion would have made for a better shock. Let it suffice to say that The Boy allows itself more freedom in its ambiguity than Child’s Play or its sequels ever had.
First and foremost, this film suffers from bad timing. Ever since seeing it, I’ve had to answer a myriad of questions comparing it to other films: is it a sequel to Annabelle (it isn’t), is it based on Robert the Doll (definitely not), is it better than The Forest (it absolutely is). This movie would almost be better suited for a midsummer release, not spectacular enough to survive in the horror battlegrounds of October, but strong enough to outlast the crippling chill of January. It’s a warmup thriller that would have better served as a appetizer for the real terror.
On its face, The Boy looks like a typical horror film that’s prepared to bore you with ninety minutes of over-exaggeration: an American named Greta — however unlikely that may seem — played by The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan ventures to the English countryside under the employment of the elderly Heelshires (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) to reside within their Victorian mansion and watch after their young son, Brahms, who happens to be a porcelain doll.
Don’t let the trailer fool you — there’s a lot more going on in this film than the typical and trite synopsis or interesting-yet-entirely-overplayed trailer would lead you to believe. It’s an effective vehicle for Cohan, who at this point is probably itching to stretch her legs beyond the stagnant confines of The Walking Dead. While the script doesn’t always give her the most captivating dialogue, she seamlessly slips in and out of the moods and expressions demanded from her, from surprise to wonder to shock. Rupert Evans plays fantastic foil beside her as the skeptic grocer, Malcolm.
This film’s marketing campaign, and indeed the film itself, wants to convince you it is something very worse than what it actually is, but the hidden gem buried beneath the facade of mediocrity here is the film’s pacing and plot, a steady escalation of sequential revelations, each one building on the other until apexing at a singular contradiction which, at first reaction, seems to defy all the prior evidence. A split second later, though, all of the pieces fall into place and everything makes sense, and the audience is left wondering how they hadn’t figured out the truth in the first place.
It’s absolutely true that this is not a flawless film: more than a few of the plot devices are clunky and poorly shaped, the big reveal at the film’s conclusion isn’t quite as shocking as it would like to be, and much of the dialogue is firmly planted in the graveyard that can only be reconciled as a January horror release. The film deserves praise, though, for going against the grain and trying something more interesting than what everyone else is clamoring for. It doesn’t necessarily succeed at its singular conceit, but the surprise was enough to shake me out of the wintertime drowse. It’s an effective palate cleanser to wash the awful taste of The Forest out of your mouth and a worthy appetizer to tide you over until The Witch rolls around, and on that virtue is more than worth the cost of admission.