‘The Boy’ Review | Demonic Toy

After seeing it, one may have the itching sense that William Brent Bell’s The Boy will be referenced by horror fans in future years. It’s the sort of just-clever-enough fright flick that whets the imagination of the die-hard slasher fanatic, instilling in them a bolstered sense of loyalty; in five or six years, certain authors will likely be writing think pieces on The Boy with headlines like “No, Seriously, You Should Check Out This Underrated Movie!” This prognostication has less to do with the actual quality of The Boy, and more a savvy working knowledge of how slasher fans think.

Luckily, The Boy is also of a perfectly decent quality, and actually scared this critic quite a bit. The Boy may not be as appealingly bug-nutty as other oft-lauded-from-the-sidelines genre films like Orphan, Splice, and The Guest, but it can at least join the ranks of the perfectly decent.

STX Entertainment

STX Entertainment

The film follows an American nanny named Greta (a lovely Lauren Cohan) who has surreptitiously moved to England to escape a shrouded wicked ex-boyfriend. She takes a job looking after Brahms, the young child of an elderly couple (Diana Hardcastle and Jim Norton) who live in a very, very remote mansion. Brahms, we immediately learn, is actually a child-sized porcelain doll with, according to his mother, a list of strange and constant demands. Mom and dad move out, and Greta is locked in a giant mansion (with non-opening windows and plenty of creaky floorboards) with a creepy, creepy doll. She doesn’t perform any of her assigned tasks. No points for guessing that she begins hearing ghostly shuffling and mysterious child voices through closed doors as early as the first night.

The stuff of The Boy is well-worn, of course (slamming doors, long hallways, and mysterious scratching go back as far as the genre), and the knowledgeable horror fan may easily spot the derivative plot elements (sure, there are plenty), but the wear and tear makes for a film that is more comfortable than flimsy. What’s more, the creepy doll has the benefit of being actually creepy (unlike the other most recent creepy doll Annabelle from the execrable Annabelle), and sustained shots of Brahms’ immobile face are enough to lift the mood considerably. It is eventually revealed that Brahms was the avatar of a real-life small boy who died 25 years prior. Is his ghost haunting the doll?

STX Entertainment

STX Entertainment

As the film progresses through its mercifully efficient 97 minutes, one may begin shifting at the anticipation of familiar plot twists, but some – like this reviewer – were actually surprised at the twists, and happy to see such an unexpected development in this tale of a woman and her doll. Indeed, the way it ends may have horror fans referring to Brahms in a specially codified set of terms reserved for conversations about horror movie villains. I apologize if that is vague, but I would rather let the films mysteries stay as whole as possible.

Director Bell is no stranger to horror schlock imprisoned in the month of January; he previously helmed The Devil Inside, a not-at-all-beloved found-footage possession movie from a few years back (January-released Devil thrillers were a rather consistent tradition once upon a time), as well as an equally un-beloved video game themed horror flick from 2006 called Stay Alive. For what it’s worth, The Boy appears to be his best film. It is well-conceived, features a fine performance from Cohan, and the premise itself might be just enough to make one’s skin crawl.

Warning: don’t read the plot synopsis of this film on Wikipedia. It gives away the ending. 

Top Image: STX Entertainment

 Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia, and Blumhouse. You can follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.