Directed by William Brent Bell.
2016. Rated PG-13, 97 minutes.
Sure, I watched Child's Play when I was in my early teens. By then, I was well-versed on slasher flicks so it didn't phase me too much as a movie. The doll itself, on the other hand, a little on the creepy side. I don't mean the scowling, angry version Chucky had become by the end of the film. I mean the cold, dead-eyed thing he was at the beginning. There's something unsettling about that plastic visage so poorly mimicking humanity. However, that film was not my first cinematic experience with killer dolls. That honor belongs to a movie called Magic. I saw it on TV a few years earlier, probably before I was really ready to handle such things. It was about a ventriloquist who wound up taking orders from his dummy who was a homicidal maniac. I don't remember any more details than that, but I do remember being genuinely freaked out. Whether or not this had any lasting psychological effect on me I'm not qualified to say. I do know that I'm not trying my hand at ventriloquism anytime soon. My point is I brought at least some level of real life trepidation into my viewing of The Boy.
However, The Boy is not really about a boy. It's more about Greta (Cohan). She's an American girl who made it across the pond to London where she has landed a job as a nanny at the home of the Heelshires, a wealthy elderly couple, They give Greta the grand tour of their rather sizable home and eventually introduce her to their very young son Brahms. Here's where things get a little strange. It turns out Brahms isn't really a little boy. He's actually a porcelain doll the Heelshires treat as if he were a living, breathing child. On top of that, they bristle at the notion of Greta or anyone else not treating him the same way. Mrs. Heelshire (Hardcastle) is clearly all-in on the fantasy of this doll being their son. Mr. Hardcastle (Norton) is a slightly more grounded in reality. Slightly. They give Greta a rather lengthy list of duties she must perform each day. These include waking Brahms rather early each morning, dressing him, making meals for him (yes, actual meals), reading to him, changing him into his pajamas before tucking him into bed at night. The most important of these rules is she is not to leave Brahms alone. Of course, Greta thinks this is all more than a bit silly, but a job is a job so she does as she's asked. The real test comes when the Heelshires decide to go on vacation, leaving Greta alone with Brahms. They warn her she must continue following the rules while they're away. Needless to say, she doesn't go along with all these things when there's no one there to watch her because, hey, it's a doll. That's when the fun begins. Whenever she deviates from the schedule or has any other indiscretions Brahms behaves strangely. By strangely, I mean he'll move from the spot where she left him, or open all the drawers in a room, or do something else dolls can't do. As you might imagine, Greta becomes increasingly confused and disturbed.
Writing the setup for this film makes it sound too ridiculous to even entertain the thought of it being a good film. Boiled down to its core, it's just a woman babysitting a doll. The key to making it work is that both the protagonist and the film itself understand the nuttiness of its premise. After all, the dilemma hanging over the proceedings is figuring out whether Brahms is really alive or not. Greta often makes note of how stupid this is and calls her sister Sandy (Lemelin) back in the States to tell about the madness she's enduring. This tactic helps us stay in the film because Greta is like us. She always seems to be thinking 'This can't be happening.' However, evidence to the contrary keep mounting until we have to accept the possibility it is.
The reason we have to wonder if Brahms is alive is the wise decision the filmmakers make to never show us the doll doing anything. Not seeing the doll move allows our imaginations amble off in strange directions. Just as important, if not more, is that Greta never sees the doll doing anything, either. This makes it more believable for us in the audience that the person on the screen is truly confused about the situation at hand. As a result we become absorbed by what we're watching while simultaneously realizing it's wholly ludicrous. As Greta, Lauren Cohan helps with this by being credibly bewildered. The subplot involving her love life also serves to throw us off the scent. It never takes over the film because Brahms has a say in everything that happens, but it's enough of a distraction that we care about what happens with it.
At some point, the movie has to tell us whether Brahms is or isn't alive. I won't spill it here, bur I will say it's interesting. However, I'm not sure it's satisfying. After playing head games with us for the better part of an hour and a half, The Boy slips into a finale that would be more at home in a slasher flick. If you've been around here, you know I'm all about some slasher flicks. In this case, though, it felt a bit out of place. Mind you, it's still a fun finale, it just doesn't quite fit what's been going on until then. Thankfully, this is not nearly enough to sink the film. When it ends we have a fun, if weird, time watching a woman interact with a porcelain doll that may or may not be alive. And yes, I thought about Magic. There's no ventriloquist here, but Brahms is damn creepy looking. Those eyes. So dead.