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Friday, February 26, 2016

The Boy

So close to being good...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

On the run from an abusive ex-boyfriend, Greta Evans takes a job as a nanny in an English country home. When she gets there, however, she finds that the young boy she's supposed to look after is actually a life-size doll that its “parents” treat like the son that died years previously. But that's only the beginning of something far stranger than she could ever have imagined.

What we thought

Note: I won't be going into any plot details here but my criticisms of the film might give certain things away so if you're particularly weary of even suggested plot spoilers, maybe see the film first and then read the review below. In a nutshell: it has its moments and a nice lead performance but it's far from being a modern horror classic...

The Boy spends much of its time defying many a convention of the modern American horror film; playing out as something far closer to the work of modern Spanish-language masters like Guillermo Del Toro or J.A. Bayona than the Conjuring or Paranormal Activity. It's nowhere near to being on the same level as the Orphanage or the Devil's Backbone, to be sure, but at least it tries for that sort of balance of unsettling weirdness and genuine human emotion over generic jump scares (though it has a couple) and super-obvious quiet-loud dynamics. Sadly, all of this goodwill is squandered on a third act that may hinge on a twist that I didn't necessarily see coming but one that turns the whole thing into a very substandard slasher flick.

Rubbish ending aside, though, the first two-thirds of the film are something of an improvement for director William Brent Bell, whose past work includes standard horror fare like Stay Alive and the hugely derided the Devil Inside. There are one or two cheap scares to keep thing from ever getting too good and it's never quite as creepy as it really needs to be, but it does at least boast an atmosphere about it and the sense of weirdness about the doll is punctuated by a real sense of loss.

Lauren Cohen delivers a strong, surprisingly layered performance as the film's central heroine whose own troubles plays off nicely against what's happening to her. The writing (by newcomer Stacey Menear) and direction never quite commit to really exploring the psychological trauma underlying Greta's past, nor does it fully embrace the metaphors that obviously lie at the heart of the film's more fantastical elements but Cohen is a good enough actress to at least suggest something deeper and more interesting going on.

Unfortunately, while the first two-thirds of the film is decidedly a mixed bag, it is at least fairly gripping, solidly moody and not entirely lazy, the final part of the film squanders all of the good will that it had built up previously on a generic “action-packed” finale that certainly isn't novel or scary but it isn't even remotely exciting. The twist itself isn't necessarily awful, but it almost entirely changes the genre of the film and it goes from being something flawed but quite involving into something far less worthy.

Ultimately, what this all means, is that The Boy is nowhere near scary enough to please hardcore horror fans but is far too committed to being a horror film that it never quite congeals into the intriguing dark fantasy that, with just a few tweaks, it could so easily have been. It's not terrible by any means but it is a disappointment. Which, by modern horror standards, is almost a recommendation.

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