When the U.S. of A did the whole creepy doll comes to life thing nearly three decades ago, it was in the form of a foul mouthed, sarcastic lil freak named Chucky in Child’s Play. In this U.K. set version of a similar concept titled The Boy, we have a significantly more mild mannered and seriously less verbose porcelain doll that goes by the name of Brahms. The 1988 doll comes to life experience knew it was trashy fun. This 2016 experience is a little too mild in its approach to its concept… even dull from time to time, if you will. There’s some nice little creepy moments, but far fewer than there should be.
William Brent Bell’s movie intoroduces us to Greta (Lauren Cohan), who’s just moved across the pond from Montana. She’s trying to escape an abusive relationship and finds a nanny job at the stately manor of the elderly Heelshire couple (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle). Turns out that there is no child… at least not in human form. The Heelshires are caring for Brahms, the aforementioned porcelain eight year old boy that they treat as if he was alive. He comes with lots of instructions, too. Some concern not leaving him alone and having no guests over. This doesn’t apply to their grocery deliverer Malcolm (Rupert Evans), who explains that there was a real Brahms who apparently perished in a fire years ago. When the homeowners take their first vacation in ages, Greta is left to care for the boy herself.
Of course, that’s when strange sound effects and happenings begin and soon our heroine comes to realize that the Heelshires might not be so crazy after all. The Boy has a rather slow build-up and while this is effective in plenty of other horror titles, it doesn’t exactly work here. We also spend a considerable amount of screen time on Greta’s potential burgeoning romance with Malcolm and her failed one with her ex.
Yet the real relationship at focus is her and that doll. And it’s clearly the most important one to Brahms. Is this all as silly as it sounds? Yes and no. Obviously the concept is bonkers, but the screenplay takes itself way more seriously than it should. The tone feels off most of the time.
That said, many of the actors give it their all. Cohan makes for an appropriately scared and bewildered protagonist and the thespians portraying Brahms’s folks have some early moments of creepiness.
Many a flick of this genre relies on twists and The Boy is another. The one here is more of a head scratcher than a good one and leaves far more questions than answers. As I write that, I recognize I’m maybe taking this too seriously. If this had been produced with a bit more gleeful recognition of its own absurdity, I probably wouldn’t have cared if it made sense.
** (out of four)