Dolls are creepy. Period. There's something eerie and unnerving about the glaring eyes of a doll, it genuinely feels as if there is something living behind those eyes. I don't know if that's just me, but they can be weird things to have laying around a house. In The Conjuring, the opening scene with the Annabelle doll is frightening, and I even found the spinoff film Annabelle well made and very spooky.
Horror is so much fun when it comes to feeling on edge and tense, the adrenaline of jolting from well-staged jump scares and the shakes you get after are all part of the experience. I hoped The Boy would deliver this experience, the trailers were cool and they built a cold atmosphere, and that doll called Brahms was very creepy to look at. I wasn't expecting a masterpiece of horror but something chilling and memorable, sadly, The Boy is none of the above. It's by no means an awful film but it really doesn't try to do anything creative, it's so by the books and safe.
Lauren Cohan stars as Greta, an American nanny who comes to England to look after the house and young son of an elderly couple for a couple of weeks, which pays a very healthy amount, something Greta desperately needs after fleeing her unstable boyfriend. However, there is a catch, the child Greta is looking after is no child, it is a doll called Brahms, a china doll. Unsure at first but realising it's an easy job, Greta soon becomes convinced something is going on in the house, something haunting, and it's only her and Brahms in the house. Could it be a burglar, or is Brahms alive?
I like the set-up, this story is chock full of potential to do some really scary things, but it settles for generic genre tropes that really drag the pace and tone of the film down. For the majority of the film, there are steady panning shots of Greta edging around corridors of the house, and whilst everything is lit beautifully and some of the camera shots are creative, there is no sense of peril or threat. The lack of a haunting atmosphere is a real surprise, considering that the film is set in a gothic style house in the middle of nowhere, this should be ripe for a horror movie atmosphere but it's flat, meaning that all the jump scares are stale and rather useless as you don't feel unnerved and on edge.
I will praise the look and design of the doll called Brahms, he is a creepy creation, the design of his little smile juxtaposed to those big glooming eyes really works to great effect, the lingering shots of him sat on the edge of a bed is genuinely strange, and Lauren Cohan's performance is really good, she pulls off the disbelief in the beginning, but as events turn for the worse, the look of fear and pure confusion she expresses is convincing, and I liked her interactions with the lifeless doll, it was never unintentionally funny which is a saving grace. Rupert Evans is good in this film as Malcolm, a delivery man local to the area. He and Cohan share a sweet onscreen presence, even if the dialogue between the two at times is really cheesy and cliched.
What would've made this film stand out and probably a lot better is the character of Greta. Whilst her reasoning for her fleeing to the UK to earn some much needed money, and escaping her dangerous boyfriend is solid enough, what would've made her much more interesting and dramatically engaging is if she became infatuated with the doll even more. Get rid of the cheap scare tactics and make it a character based study, where the doll begins to control her not in the literal sense, but in that she truly believes its alive, and her actions and routine become stuck and she deteriorates. This is just one idea, there's a lot of missed potential which is frustrating, as it's not a bad film, it's just half baked.
One of my biggest problems with the film comes from a scene midway through the film that isn't a spoiler, just an observation that the writer and director should've picked up on. Greta gets locked inside the attic, and she's supposed to be going on a date with Malcolm, who works for the family and the house. She is screaming and screaming to get out, and he pulls up at the front door and she can see him through a peephole in the attic. He knocks on the door and waits, she's still screaming to be let out. Why on earth doesn't Malcolm just simply walk in the house and find her? He works there, why would he wait outside and drive off? It's little gaps in logic and a strained narrative that really drag this potentially solid horror down.
But, I will admit another positive, I did not see the twist end coming and that is always refreshing when you are given a nice surprise at the end of a film. The ending turns into a nice cat and mouse thriller with some cool claustrophobic elements and some weird, twisted camera shots that gets the hairs on your neck standing up.
Overall, I wouldn't recommend The Boy, but it's not a total trainwreck. The performances are solid and the cinematography and design of the doll are great, I just wished there was more substance and an actual atmosphere to bolster down the overall tone and creepiness of the film. I'm giving The Boy a 5.5 out of 10.