The Boy (2016)
★ / ★★★★
“The Boy,” written by Stacey Menear and directed by William Brent Bell, is yet another disappointing horror film despite a genuinely surprising twist that is revealed during the final fifteen minutes. This is because the journey to get to the finish line is a considerable slog. One gets the impression that the writer had one good idea and simply relied on the same old, boring clichés to support it. The picture has no aspiration to be great or memorable.
Greta (Lauren Cohan) travels to the UK because she is hired by a wealthy couple (Diana Hardcastle, Jim Norton) to babysit their son for two weeks. Greta feels the need to get away from her personal problems back in America and the pay is very handsome so, despite the boy actually being a life-sized doll, she accepts the responsibility of taking care of Brahms as if he were an actual person. After about a week of staying in the massive estate, however, the babysitter begins to suspect that something is amiss. She feels as though she is constantly watched. Her personal belongings go missing. While on the telephone, she even hears a voice of a child asking why she won’t play with him.
The heroine is not written in such a way that we are able to sympathize with her. The character undergoes dramatic changes throughout but oftentimes these come across as abrupt, messy, unfocused. As a result, halfway through the picture, the viewer cannot be blamed for questioning whether she is a reliable conduit to the story. And because there is doubt between the protagonist and the audience in a horror film that is almost a one-woman show, it leaves us with no compass. But instead of creating a compelling experience, it is a frustration. We suspect whether it is one of those groan-inducing horror movies in which the heroine turns out to be crazy in the end, that the things we are seeing are only happening in her head.
There are a handful of jump scares but there is a lack of genuine scares. The former’s effects are immediate while the latter’s claws tend to grip the mind. It is a curiosity that the film does not aspire to deliver more of the latter considering that the setting is very creepy. The story takes place in a massive house filled with old-fashioned furnitures and wall decorations. There are many rooms and equally numerous dark corners worth exploring. At night, the fog that hovers over the estate is as thick as the darkness indoors. There is even a grave within the surrounding area. Despite these elements, the filmmakers result to jump scares. It startles, sure, but such an approach gives no lasting, tangible impression.
A subplot involving a possible romantic connection between the babysitter and a delivery man (Rupert Evans) is silly, forced, and does not go anywhere interesting. It exists solely because the boy is supposed to be very possessive of the woman he chose to take care of him. We are supposed to feel uneasy about the romance because the implication is that soon the doll would get angry and that rage could manifest when Greta is all alone in the house.
“The Boy” has neither thrills nor suspense to engage the viewers throughout its running time. Its highly pessimistic approach of being content with delivering average work across the board is not only frustrating but also insulting. In this day and age where horror films are a dime a dozen, filmmakers of the genre ought to aspire to deliver work that stands out.