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Review: The Boy Knows When to Break the Rules

The Boy

A film in the vein of such doll-come-to-life films as Pin and Child’s Play, The Boy follows the story of a nanny traveling to the United Kingdom to take care of a new charge. However, once she arrives she discovers that her charge is a doll. This is a special doll that requires a very specific list of rules for her to follow in its care. One does question the evil doll phenomenon that pops up every few years in the horror genre. Perhaps in most of our childhoods we all had a doll or toy that was designated the “bad one” and as adults, the creators of these types of films find themselves still haunted by the dark depths their imaginations went to in order to produce these creations. Whatever the origin of this idea, The Boy is a film that necessitates the suspension of disbelief but ultimately succeeds on many levels.

The film opens up on Greta (Lauren Cohan) asleep in the back of a taxi. Yet, while she appears vulnerable in her sleep, there is also a suggestion of strength to her character. This sort of vulnerability and strength in her performance resonates throughout the film and goes a long way in projecting what makes it successful despite a few minor flaws. The audience finds out that she has a dark past and is desperate to escape into a future that promises any hope.

The Boy is well-crafted and a part of that is because of its focus on character development. Due to her need to escape, it is more conceivable that Greta would be willing to stay on even after realizing that her employers might not have the most solid mentality in over paying someone to take care of a doll; Even if that doll is supposed to represent a child that was lost to death in a fire. Cohan delivers an excellent performance as Greta that ranges from playful to terrified. Having had bad experiences in the past, Cohan’s Greta uses caution and wit and has no problem being a brave and determined hero by the climax of the film.

The-boy-Greta-paintingAnother element that contributes heavily to the The Boy being a well-crafted film is its pacing. A feature that really only has two main characters interacting with a doll must heavily rely on good pacing and character development in order to keep an audience’s attention. There are a few other characters that pop in and out of the movie, but it is mainly Greta and the local grocer, Malcolm (Rupert Evans), that move the story along. Malcolm provides the exposition needed to fill in the audience on the background of Brahms, the titular “boy”, and Greta supplies the action in order to convince the audience that the doll that has come to life.

A huge success of The Boy that differs from many others in the killer doll genre is that it does not take too long to convince Greta that Brahms might be alive. Even more of a relief is that it only takes her about two scenes to further convince Malcolm. While ultimately both characters are in for a big surprise at the climax of the film, regarding Brahms as a doll, it is a very welcome change of pace that the movie does not spend a vast amount of time exploring whether or not Greta is, herself, going crazy. Most films would take the opportunity to waste time having Malcolm circle around the idea of Greta losing her mind and her having to prove to him the truth. Instead, the film cuts right to the chase.

The-Boy-Malcom-Smiling-GretaPraise is also due for the music and the special effects in the film. Both are highly effective in conveying the isolation and fear that is thematic to The Boy. While there are one or two cheap manipulations to make the audience jump, these manipulations add to the suspense in keeping the film engaging. The doll is also used effectively. It is just enough to be creepy without appearing clownish. The construction of the doll is used well in terms of how it is needed in the moment. At times it appears as nothing more than a doll and at other times one does get the suggestion something else might be going on inside.

Overall, The Boy is an effective horror film. It ranges from ghost story to slasher film in a way that eventually makes the need for suspension of disbelief disappear. That is what works well about the film. The pacing leads the audience to believe they are watching a ghost story and thus they begin to settle into that frame of mind. However, the welcomed twist turns the picture into a slasher and the audience is swept along with the characters through several twists and turns leading up to the conclusion. The Boy never wastes too much time on one specific idea yet is always cohesive. The only really flaw is that no specific motives are given for the initial actions of Brahms as a child other than that he was an “odd” boy. Despite the flaws of initial motive and perhaps the general sanity of everyone involved (considering the final twist), the film delivers on horror and scares.

The Boy is in theaters now.


Wicked Rating: 6/10
Director: William Brent Bell
Writer: Stacey Menear
Stars: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans
Year: 2016
Studio/Production Company: Lakeshore Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment
Budget: $10,000,000
Language: English
Length: 97 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Psychological Horror

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Written by Justin Steele
Justin Steele is a graduate of Bowling Green State University. His focus was the representation of women and minorities in contemporary media. In addition to writing, he hosts the 411popCulture channel on YouTube. He enjoys Rep Theatre and once performed on Broadway. He currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio with his 15-year-old cat. He is a die-hard horror fan with a particular affinity for slasher films.
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