a still from the film
Between The Boy and the upcoming sequel to Annabelle, possessed dolls are officially a trend this year. The killer doll subgenre of horror cinema may not be the most respected corner of the genre, but it does have its moments.
Especially when you already have an inexplicable fear of dolls from way back when.
But with the new slew of possessed doll films, it's clear that the days of Child's Play and The Puppetmaster are long gone - killer toys these days are more about the "moving when you aren't looking" and less about the "stab stab stabby stab stab."
In The Boy, Lauren Cohan (from the Walking Dead) plays American nanny Greta Evers who takes the wrong job, in the wrong English village, in the wrong stuffy house.
The job: watching over a young child called Brahms.
The caveat: that child is actually a doll.
The larger issue: that doll is actually inhabited by the spirit of the real kid, who died a few decades early.
The conflict: he's not a very nice kid apparently.
Greta is given a list of 10 strict rules by the rigid, conservatively dressed Heelshires (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) to follow when she looks after Brahms. But when his parents leave, she fails to comply, which leads to some rather spooky goings on.
Greta's patter with Rupert Evans (Hellboy) - grocery man Malcolm that she becomes romantically entangled with, provides a warm and charming humanity to The Boy. That's among the very few plot elements that allow you to become even remotely invested. (You're actually left praying that he doesn't meet a grisly end).
But Malcolm is decent enough to fill Greta in on what's happening here: The real Brahms died in a fire 20 years ago on his 8th birthday, and the Heelshires have been using the doll as a stand-in ever since.
Cohen's performance is key to keeping The Boy afloat - at different points she's either cutesy, naive, stern, and she handles her descent into borderline insanity with aplomb.
While The Boy plods along nicely enough you're always waiting for its true twist, the one that explains the supernatural shenanigans, to reveal itself.
Unfortunately, when it arrives, it's so hackneyed (everyone, please watch a little New Zealand film called Housebound for a better version of the same twist) it all but ruins the fun and creepiness that had just preceded it.
Even before its dismal final act director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside) tries to catch scares using dream sequences, creaks, doors opening and closing mysteriously, and mirrors - horror tropes that have long become tepid.
It's not even remotely dark and unsettling the way Guillermo del Toro's recent Crimson Peak was.
If you're looking to be repeatedly scared and shocked, The Boy isn't for you.