William Brent Bell’s The Boy has all the elements of a modern Gothic thriller: you’ve got the heroine with a dark past, a pair of menacing elderly folks, the handsome potential love interest, and a creepy mansion.
If The Boy had managed to put all the puzzle pieces together, this movie could have rivaled Nicole Kidman’s The Others as one of my favorite ghost stories. As it stands, it’s merely a pretty solid waste of two hours or so.
Lauren Cohan (Maggie, The Walking Dead) carries the film as Greta, an emotionally damaged American woman who flees a tragic past for a nannying job in England. Greta has just been hired by the Heelshire family to look after their rather unusual son, Brahms.
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Greta is shocked to learn that Brahms is not a human boy but a lifesize doll that the Heelshires talk to as if he is real. The Heelshires’ actual son died some twenty years before, in a tragic fire. The young American immediately runs afoul of her new employers when she expresses her incredulity and bursts out laughing at the sight of the doll.
The Heelshires then present Greta with a list of rules that must be adhered to strictly—or else—and then promptly jet off on vacation.
The strength of The Boy lies in Lauren Cohan’s performance as Greta. While the premise is incredibly silly, Cohan sells it. The audience is asked to suspend their disbelief and Cohan, as the haunted, emotionally damaged Greta, makes you want to believe. At first she acts as an audience proxy, laughing at the absurdity of the Heelshires and their “son,” before becoming convinced—almost zealously so—Brahms is actually alive. You come to want Greta’s fantasy—delusion?—to be real because, after what she’s endured and lost, she deserves it.
Of course, the problem with the movie is that Brahms actually isn’t a spirit inhabiting a creepy porcelain doll. It turns out there’s nothing special about the doll at all; the Heelshires’ son never died and, rather, has been living within the mansion’s walls. What had the potential to be an oddly poignant, somewhat original ghost story devolves into a version of a home invasion/slasher flick, with a grown Brahms stalking and tormenting Greta, her abusive ex-boyfriend, and her love interest Malcolm.
I, like Greta, was willing to believe, and was willing to go where The Boy was asking me to. Unfortunately, it didn’t pay off, retreating instead to well-tread ground. The climax and denouement are still scary, Brahms is still a frightening villain, and Greta proves her mettle as a kickass heroine, but we’ve seen this movie before. For me, The Boy only scratched the surface of its potential. It could have been so much more, it could have been something we hadn’t seen before, which is where my ultimate disappointment lies.