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In Theaters: THE BOY (2016)

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THE BOY
(US/China - 2016)

Directed by William Brent Bell. Written by Stacey Menear. Cast: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, James Russell, Ben Robson, Matthew Walker. (PG-13, 97 mins)

I'm a sucker for a good creepy doll movie, and after the unwatchable ANNABELLE, THE BOY appeared to be a welcome throwback that relied more on atmosphere and mood than jump scares and subpar CGI. Hope was deflated significantly upon learning THE BOY was directed by William Brent Bell, whose previous films include the idiotic gamers-killed-by-video-game dud STAY ALIVE (2006), featuring a legitimate contender for the most annoying snarky movie line ever ("Sweet Sebastian Bach, I wanna play!"), and the rock-bottom, found-footage EXORCIST knockoff THE DEVIL INSIDE (2012). STAY ALIVE was merely stupid, but THE DEVIL INSIDE was the cinematic equivalent of a Nigerian prince e-mail, a loathsome scam of a film whose boundless contempt for its audience was so off-the-charts that it just stopped abruptly with no ending, with a middle finger of an end crawl sending moviegoers to a web site "for more on the ongoing investigation." Despite toxic word-of-mouth, THE DEVIL INSIDE somehow managed to sucker audiences out of $53 million despite a 76% freefall in its second weekend. Still, both STAY ALIVE and THE DEVIL INSIDE probably scored well enough on the horror fanboy's overly generous "Everything is Awesome!" curve that Bell likely got himself a lifetime "Master of Horror" pass. Against all odds and any rational logic, William Brent Bell is still considered employable, and though I love a creepy doll movie as much as anyone, the biggest concern going in was "How badly is Bell going to fuck this up?"


To his credit, he does an alright job, as THE BOY is a pretty good horror movie until it turns into a pretty dumb horror movie. It's his most accomplished film yet as a director, though it would be hard to make something worse then THE DEVIL INSIDE. It's worth noting that Bell also wrote that film and STAY ALIVE but had nothing to do with THE BOY's script, which is a career path I advise him to keep following. Set in the kind of stately British manor that would've fit perfectly in a 1970s Hammer or Amicus film, THE BOY (actually shot in Canada) stars THE WALKING DEAD's Lauren Cohan as Greta, an American running from a requisite dark past, all the way to rural England, where she takes a job as a nanny at a large estate in the middle of nowhere. She's hired by the elderly Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire (Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle) to watch over their eight-year-old son, Brahms. Brahms is revealed to be toddler-sized porcelain doll. The Heelshires are going on holiday and Greta has specific instructions to follow Brahms' itinerary to the letter, including poetry and music lessons, a bedtime story, a kiss goodnight, and to be with him at all times. Of course, Greta blows off her duties, but is essentially housebound with nothing much to do, no internet and no cell reception. Local bloke Malcolm (Rupert Evans) drops off groceries and dispenses the Heelshires' generous pay to Greta each week, and rightly senses that Greta is running away from something that she reveals to be a violent ex who's trying to track her down, and she fled overseas from Montana to get as far away from him as she could. Malcolm informs Greta that Brahms was the Heelshires' eight-year-old son, and he died 20 years earlier in a fire. They've never been able to cope with the loss, so they treat the doll as if it's the child Brahms. Greta starts taking her duties seriously when she begins witnessing strange occurrences that indicate "Brahms" is alive, or at the very least a spirit of some kind exists inside the doll.


THE BOY works fine for about 2/3 of the way, with Cohan an engaging, believable heroine, and she has a good rapport with Evans, who's very likable as Malcolm. Brahms, with the ever-so-slight changes in his facial expressions, is an eerie figure and the premise is bizarre enough that it keeps you intrigued over where it's going. Then it gets to where it's going and it stumbles to its unsatisfying conclusion. From the moment Greta's ex improbably shows up, the film never regains its footing before abandoning the "creepy doll" angle and turning into...well, it's hard to say what it turns into without spoiling it, but it's a 2014 import that got a lot of buzz in cult horror circles. THE BOY isn't a bad movie, but it's another example of the need for a bait-and-switch plot twist negating much of what took place before, with the focus going from telling the story to laying the foundation for a sequel. I wouldn't be surprised if what turns out to be "Brahms" becomes a DTV franchise, which I guess some producers find more important than making one good, strong, solid-from-front-to-back horror film.



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