The world of horror and the world of dolls have met several times over the course of cinematic history. There’s Chucky, there’s Annabelle, and of course many more dolls that have only elicited screams. Dolls, thanks to the horror genre, has became as iconic as killer clowns, if you were to ask. And yeah, The Boy is here, introducing yet another doll to the mix. Does it serve as a shameless rip-off, or a new take on a rather old trope?
Minor spoilers might be scattered throughout, so proceed at your own discretion.
The Boy starts off rather simply. A haunted house, with a doll added in for added measure. Greta, a nanny, is hired by the Heelshires to take care of their ‘child’, while they take off on a vacation hastily, leaving Greta with a porcelain doll. Yeah, but here’s the bad news- that short synopsis is probably creepier than the final film product.
Make no mistake- The Boy benefits from expert cinematography, which never fails to make the film beautiful. The production designer and cinematographer should both alike be praised- the former for creating such memorable and beautiful sets, and the latter for playing around with the camera angles, which makes it a particular stand-out (in contrast with the recent film, The Forest, which just looks like a bunch of shots pieced together in order to show what’s going on). The Boy probably shines brightest in these two aspects (but also gives off a ‘bigger budget than norm for horror’ feeling that I can’t explain). Anyways, that’s beside the point. From start to end, every shot seems to have been well thought through, which is fantastic here. Call it stylistic if you want.
The Boy also benefits from a decent leading performance from lead Lauren Cohan. Anyways, good job once again, since she shows she can easily ‘metamorphosis’ between her British and American accent. Yeah, she’s British, and yet she always has to utilize the American side of her, so good job! (Even though I kinda know that she was born in America, but still…) Lauren Cohan’s Greta character is easily likable, but nothing fantastic here. She does what she can with accordance to the script’s various requirements. She comes across as weak, frightened, confused- and she does it pretty well. Jim Norton and Diana Harcastle, both playing the couple pair Heelshires, no matter how short their ‘cameo’, still put in great performances as well. And Rupert Evans deserves to be praised too.
Those are probably the only reasons why I can endorse this film for. The other aspects, or rather, the more important ones that horror movies live and die with- story and scares- well, they can’t quite make it. Let’s begin with the script. The one big problem The Boy suffers from is the script’s inability to decide what type of horror it wants to be- yeah, the synopsis makes it sound like a typical haunted house flick, and that’s what it turns out to be initially, before slowly evolving into a sorta psychological, all in the mind type of horror movie, and then unintentionally evolveing into a satire of sorts, before ending off with a typical slasher flick. Seriously, if the film had just stuck with the ‘haunted house’ trope, this film would have been… much better and far less confusing and indecisive. The most ridiculous part of the plot progression would be midway through the film, when Greta more or less accepts the presence of a spirit, and embraces it, without feeling fear, instead even laughing it off at times. Well, that’s pretty much how we moviegoers are feeling by that point in time- unafraid and fearless (with some laughing at how unscary the film has turned out to be up till that point). Of course, the film fails to spend enough time building on the titular character as well- instead, all we are left with is the fact that the boy is weird, and had died 20 years prior to the events presented in the film. That doesn’t help us in any way, and had more attention been shone upon the boy’s character prior to his death, the film would have came across as more emotionally engaging, and less of a joke.
Now, I understand that most enter a horror movie for the scares, so how does The Boy fare in the scares department? Well, sorry for being so disheartening, but that is probably where the film fails most. Okay, the film definitely succeeds in terms of atmospheric scares, but these scares are short lived, and their impact are usually not felt (well, it mostly brooding music played over a few shots of the house, mostly when it’s dark) As previously mentioned, the lack of understanding about the porcelain doll and its history disallows us from expressing empathy towards the lead characters, and makes the ending all the more ridiculous, awkward and unimpactful. It is ironic that for a film about a doll, that most of the scares are not attributed to the doll. Yeah, the doll hardly plays a role in the jump scares that are scattered throughout the film. And talking about jump scares, yeah, they are few and far between, and they are more or less cheap and fast scares. Yeah, there just aren’t so many scares in this film, to sum things up. They mostly appear as ‘oh, it’s really quiet, and SHITTT, that just happened!’, which last for a few seconds. Oh, and most of the scares we get are overly familiar too. Honestly speaking, the film’s concept is so badly presented (thanks to the script) that the film looks more like a joke at times.
And here’s my final verdict:
4.0/10 (film benefits from fantastic cinematography and production value, as well as decent acting from the cast throughout, but scares are, apart from atmospheric tension, overly familiar and uninspired, and are few and far between. Doll does not help in the way of film progression, and is unimportant at times. Script is uninspired too, and suffers from trying to cover too many horror subgenres, as well as a stumble midway through the film (which makes the film feel more like a satire)
On a scale of A to F, where F means stupid and dumb and ridiculous, and anything that you possibly wouldn’t love, and where A symbolizes perfection,
Character Development: C+
Entertainment Factor: B-