ABOUT 9 YEARS AGO a major Hollywood A-lister approached the subscription TV network I worked for with a proposal. If you sent his production company a kick ass proposal, he would pony up $10 000 000 for you to make it. In terms of Hollywood features that wasn’t (and still isn’t) a lot. But by Oz standards it was better than a kick in the nutz.
Unfortunately the whole enterprise folded after one mediocre movie and a reality show starring the A-Lister’s old school mate (who, admittedly was quite lovely once you got to know him).
But the point I am so laboriously trying to make with the horror thriller The Boy is that a quick scan through Wikipedia will tell you that it was made with a budget of $10 000 000. But does that money appear on screen?
Well as of writing, The Boy has made over 6 times that in return! But being 6 times richer doesn’t necessarily mean 6 times better. Is it any good? (A phrase I am told has since been copyrighted by fellow horror surgeon Ben Skinner, and so I must now pay him 50 cents).
In a nutshell the story of The Boy (if you haven’t seen the trailer) is about an American woman in her early 30’s who runs away from an abusive relationship and straight into the arms of a wealthy old English couple looking to hire a nanny to look after their young son Brahms .
The couple live in a classic creepy mansion in the middle of country nowhere (naturally) and the woman (Greta) we soon learn is the latest hire in a string of nannies who have failed to stay with the job. The reason? Brahms is a porcelain doll. About the size of a ventriloquist dummy, the elderly couple dress and treat him as if he is real. The reason being is that the real Brahms died back in 1991 at the age of 8 in an unexplained house fire, and in an effort to navigate through this tragedy, his parents have invested a lot of emotional resonance in what appears to be a coping mechanism gone too far.
The couple lay down rules for Brahms – when he is to be woken in the morning, what music he is to listen to and at what time. Even setting a place for him to eat breakfast, lunch & dinner. Greta, who we also learn is the youngest of the nannies trialled – that is sort of relevant later on – understandably thinks they are all bat-shit bonkers; but they are also willing to pay, and what’s more, their locale is far from her abusive ex-boyfriend.
The elderly couple are also long overdue for a holiday and leave Greta alone with the dummy (because apparently he ‘approves of her’) and so she figures this is easy scratch because following the rules is so much easier when there is no one around to enforce them.
Or so she thinks.
Because once left alone the shenanigans begin as things inevitably start to happen in the mansion that can only be attributed to doll Brahms coming to life behind her back. Is it possessed with the spirit of ‘real’ Brahms? A little boy we soon discover in life was a little….odd? Or is all this Greta’s descent into madness brought on by isolation (the mansion has no WiFi and cell service, natch) combined with the unresolved tragedy of having lost an unborn child (see abusive relationship mentioned earlier).
With basically one (admittedly giant) location and a cast you can count on one hand, is the 10 million immediately visible on screen?
Or, approaching it from the other direction, have the film makers been clever enough to come up with a compelling cinematic story whilst using a minimal amount of cast and locations?
By and large the answer is yes. The look & feel of the film is very much like an old skool Hammer Horror flick given a 21st century coat of paint.
The storytelling tricks the director William Brent Bell employs to give life to an inanimate doll (short of making it get up and move ala Chucky) are clever enough, and one I picked before seeing the film – the use of revolving light – is well used here without being abused. (For a famous demonstration of what I mean click on this clip: below)
The Boy is a solid B movie effort. For non-horror fans it will tick enough boxes, and for aficionados of websites like this, what it arguably lacks in straight up scares it should make up for with its intriguing/creepy set pieces and actual story.
Other comments I feel worth mentioning – the lead playing Greta is Lauren Cohan, from The Walking Dead fame. She takes a while to reconcile as her face isn’t caked with grime, blood & dirt, and working in everyday make up I would imagine was a pleasant change of pace for her.
Her performance is likewise solid, and her progression from relatively stable to “holy shit is this dummy real?” is a line that she straddles quite well. Of course that means there are times where delving into “too much” or “not enough” territory may have been the way to go too…
The only other thing I’d like to mention is that although it’s set in the UK, one look at the trees in the opening shot told me it was shot somewhere in America. As it turns out I was half right. It was Canada. Which is how the movie was able to retain an authentic damp/drizzly feel.
So after insulting 3 separate western cultures I will conclude with this, The Boy holds you to the end to find out exactly what the hell is going on. And that’s all any movie can ask for.
Want to know more? Fine – it also borrows heavily from these 2 movies, but if you DON’T want any spoilers – don’t click….
– Antony Yee