Tag: jim norton

The Boy

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.

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jacob (Robert Pattinson) has a promising future despite the claws of The Great Depression running deep. But on the day of his final exam, critical to his certification as a veterinarian in Cornell University, his parents perish in a car accident. After finding out that his family’s house is to be taken by the bank, Jacob, an only child, hits the road and ends up aboard a train which houses Benzini Brothers performers. Camel (Jim Norton) decides to take Jacob under his wing and introduces him to the boss, August (Christoph Waltz), in hopes of getting him a job. August reluctantly hires Jacob as the circus vet but it is not long until the seventeen-year-old orphan notices August’s wife, blonde-haired Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the star attraction of the circus.

Based on a novel by Sara Gruen, “Water for Elephants,” directed by Francis Lawrence, is most engaging when Jacob and August play tug o’ war over Marlena. Even though they are husband and wife, August treats Marlena as his plaything, as something that he can brag about indirectly, shamelessly as they sit next to each other in front of company.

August is a smart but cruel man, especially to animals because he sees them as less than, simply a way of making money. When consumed with rage, he does not think twice about picking up a sharp object and stabbing the animals with it until the anger has been drained out of him and blood has been drained out of the animals. His cruelty to them causes a rift between he and his wife, who genuinely loves animals and appreciates their innate beauty and intelligence.

This is where Jacob comes in. Marlena sees a kindness in him and thinks it is refreshing. Over time, though reluctantly at first, their feelings for each other reach a peak and they realize that they need to get out of the circus before one or both of them ends up dead.

The dark romance, or ownership, between husband and wife and the dreamy romance between wife and younger man is handled with clarity and respect without sacrificing necessary implications for complexity. It is important that we do not see Jacob as someone who is out to destroy someone’s marriage. This is why it is necessary that the exposition be given ample time to be presented and unfold elegantly. We learn to see him as a man–not necessarily a physically strong man but a man with strong convictions–who might hold the key to Marlene’s cage. Pattinson holds his own against Waltz and Witherspoon.

The weakness of the film is not spending more time on Rosie the elephant. Aside from the important scene near the end, what exactly is the elephant’s relationship toward Marlena and Jacob? There is something about the animal, capable of understanding language, that is purposefully magical, almost human-like in its ability to understand emotions and intentions. More scenes are required to strengthen the connection between the elephant and the lovers.

“Water for Elephants,” based on the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese, is beautifully made. I liked the techniques it employs during the circus performances like muffling the sounds just a little bit to emphasize the images and how they are accomplished without CGI. It does not forget that magic is found in what is real.