Porcelain dolls are creepy. Most folks can agree on that. However, movies based solely on that idea are becoming increasingly, mind-numbingly stale. January horror flick ‘The Boy’ tediously clings to tired tropes. Unless you’ve never seen a creepy doll movie before (and with the recent success of ‘Goosebumps’, even younger viewers probably have), there’s really no need to dive into this one.
‘Walking Dead’ vet Lauren Cohan stars as Greta, a troubled young woman who flees America and accepts a bizarre nanny job on an isolated English estate. The home is seemingly designed to have as many shadows as possible and its elderly owners (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) are creepy in that friendly way that works well in the first act of horror movies. Greta’s job is unconventional to say the least. The boy they want her to nanny is actually a life-sized doll that they treat as a son. Learning that news is probably the right time to politely turn down the position, but Greta’s desperate so she takes it anyway. As soon as she starts work, the parents leave town. Greta gets stuck alone with the doll and a collection of Mogwai style rules she’s supposed to follow. Wouldn’t ya know it? She breaks ’em. Things get creepy. Then a hunky delivery dude (Rupert Evans) starts popping up to tell Greta secrets about the real son that the doll replaced. Ooooh boy! Bad things follow.
So there you go. It’s all pretty stock horror stuff. Admittedly, the filmmakers got a budget big enough to make some pretty/creepy sets and the doll’s design does offer a few chills when it arrives. Unfortunately, directing duties fell onto William Brent Bell, whose ‘The Devil Inside‘ was one of the most lackluster and downright irritating horror movies of recent memory. Sadly, there’s not even a chance of the paint-by-numbers screenplay being elevated by sumptuous style. No, the horror movie grammar is executed in a manner than can only be described as competent. The expected tropes such as creaking doors and fake-out dream sequences are trotted out in such a perfunctory manner that anyone who has ever seen a single horror movie should be able to guess each scare minutes before it arrives. The whole thing unfolds with a sense of tedious inevitability rather than unsettling mystery.
Lauren Cohan and her fellow cast mates do the best they can in a collection of underwritten roles. They try to hit every telegraphed moment of hysteria or whispery intrigue with something approaching natural human behavior, but there’s only so much that can be done. At least the performances aren’t embarrassingly wooden or too overblown, I suppose. The actors showed up and tried. That must count for something. The trouble is that they’re saddled with a script that was cynically slapped together by folks who think identifying and repeating tired genre formula counts as storytelling. Human behavior is rarely linked to relatable psychology and the big twist the film marches towards is so obvious that viewers are more likely to sigh than scream when it arrives.
In other words, ‘The Boy’ isn’t very good. However, it’s not particularly awful either. It’s a ho-hum horror movie produced by folks who know the genre is popular and feel like they may as well make one for some bucks. They don’t really care enough to dare to make something fresh for fans. That’s a shame, but at the same time, the movie isn’t so horrendous that it deserves angry rants and wails of disgust like the director’s downright insulting ‘The Devil Inside’. This one merely deserves to be tolerated and/or ignored depending on how frustrated you are by generic horror offerings.
The movie certainly hits all the expected beats (including a franchise-baiting open ending that hopefully won’t be followed up), so I suppose those who appreciate going through those motions like a cinematic comfort blanket will be semi-satisfied. That just shouldn’t be enough. Horror fans deserve better than empty pandering. I can only hope that something more worthy of the built-in genre fan base will emerge soon. By the time it does, it’s safe to assume that ‘The Boy’ will be mercifully forgotten.