Did you know that Hollywood traditionally releases more horror films in January than in October? January, it turns out, is known in the industry as a “dump month”, when audiences are smaller and critical expectations are lower. Hong Kong’s “dump month”, however, falls in April because the first three months of the year is the time when our cinemas traditionally release the films that are expected to win, or have already won, the prestige awards. That’s why THE BOY, which was released in the US in January, is only arriving on our shores now.
THE BOY stars Lauren Cohan (TV’s THE WALKING DEAD) as Greta, a nubile 34-year-old from Montana who takes up a job as a nanny to the Heelshires, an elderly couple who reside in a spooky Gothic mansion in rural England. Mr. & Mrs. Heelshire are parents to an 8-year-old boy named Brahms who is more than a bit unique. Brahms, as both we and Greta learn at the same time, is a doll – a life-sized porcelain doll, to be precise. The Heelshires have hired Greta to look after Brahms while they go on an extended vacation, which is something they haven’t done in decades. It seems that their flesh-and-blood son, also named Brahms, died in a fire 25 years earlier. The couple, we learn, never got over their tragic loss and they believe that Brahms the Doll is their son. Before they depart, they give Greta a list of instructions on how to care for Brahms (not to cover him up, read to him out loud for three hours each day, clothe him, make sure he eats, kiss him before he goes to sleep, … ) and advise Greta that if she will be good to Brahms, he’ll be good to her. Needless to say, no sooner are the Heelshires out the door and in the car, Greta throws a sheet over the kid and settles back with a glass of fine chardonnay.
But, of course, life is never that simple, particularly in movies where dolls are involved. I guess Greta never heard of that cuddly plastic bundle of joy named Chucky. Pretty soon she starts hearing noises as Brahms shows signs that he’s either alive or possessed by a spirit. While Greta takes the requisite shower and enjoying every drop of water that hits her very healthy body, someone, or some thing, pinches her clothes. When she realises that she may not be alone in the house, she goes searching for Brahms only to find that he’s been moved… or did he move on his own?
Fortunately for Greta, she has a confidante in Malcolm (Rupert Evans, who will be seen later in the year in Ewan McGregor’s feature film directorial debut, AMERICAN PASTORAL), the neighbourhood grocery boy/man, who knew the real Brahms from childhood. Brahms, we learn, was a bit of handful back then. Greta begins to think that Brahms the Doll is possessed by the spirit of Brahms the Child. As the two of them investigate the possibility, Greta’s past starts to catch up with her, which puts everyone in the house in danger.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the concept. What’s the deal with scary doll films? It’s like scary clown films. Yawn. Next is the creepy house, which has also been done to death – no pun intended. When Greta first arrives at the Heelshires’ stately manor, she immediately heads upstairs to snoop around. Has she no manners? And what about Malcolm, who finds Greta poking around in Brahms’ bedroom. Did he never watch DOWNTON ABBEY? The tradespeople are never allowed to go upstairs. Yes, there are a few scary moments in the film (maybe three, tops) but two of those involve dream sequences. Again, done… to… death. Oh, and let’s not forget the harpsichord that every Gothic mansion must have.
To be fair, both Cohan and Evans do a good job with what they have to work with, which is very little. There’s only so much one can do playing opposite a doll. The screenplay is the real problem here. Aside from including every horror cliché in the book, ten minutes into the film and it’s obvious where we’re heading. Even with the few plot twists thrown in at the end to try to heighten the tension, the holes are just too gaping to ignore. If we accept the third act, we have to reject the first two. And don’t get me started on the epilogue. It’s equally ridiculous.
THE BOY is pure rubbish. If you feel you really must see it, it’s coming out on DVD in May.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 31:30.)
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