“The Boy” is the best horror movie to come out in January in ages. Granted, that’s not praise of the highest caliber, but it is praise. The movie has some moments where it really does shine, and the whole movie is good more often than it is bad; which is more than most horror movies that come out today can say (i.e. “The Forest,” “Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension,” “The Gallows,” etc.).
The movie stars Lauren Cohan–who plays Maggie on The Walking Dead–and Rupert Evans, who was in “Hellboy” and Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” series. One of the movie’s biggest strengths is actually the performance of these two stars. They aren’t Oscar-worthy performances, but they are well above par for a genre marred with bad performances.
The movie is directed by William Brent Bell, who has only directed horror movies. Bell’s last outing, “The Devil Inside,” wasn’t great, and “The Boy” can be seen as an improvement in every way over Bell’s last project.
The plot centers around Greta (played by Lauren Cohan), an American living in England who was hired as a nanny for a boy. Much to Greta’s surprise, the boy is actually a doll made of porcelain. Greta ignores the doll at first, but then some weird stuff starts happening with the doll, and with the house in general. Alongside this narrative, we also learn more of Greta’s backstory and what led her to be where she is. The two narratives, while far from perfect, do intersect in a cool way that leads to a great climax.
The movie has moments that are genuinely scary, and not in a way that revolves around jump scares. In fact, the movie relies more on a slow building of dread than on cheap thrills. This slow building of dread and terror pays off greatly in the final act of the movie in a sequence that trades the slow build of fear with fast-paced terror that will get your pulse pounding.
As mentioned above, the performances by the two leads in the movie are pretty solid for what the movie is. Sure, the script isn’t doing them any favors but Lauren Cohan and Rupert Evans both portray their respective characters accurately in regards to the situations they are in. Awkward moments between characters feel awkward and tense moments feel tense. When the narrative comes to a head at the end of the film, Lauren Cohan’s performance really brings it home well.
The supporting actors in this movie also give solid performances. Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle, who play the Heelshires (the family that hires Greta) put just the right amount of cheese into their performances to make the ridiculous premise of “The Boy” feel more realistic then it has any right to be.
“The Boy” is not without fault, however; the movie is plentiful in this regard. For starters, some of the scenes towards the beginning feel a little stilted and awkward, but this issue is quickly resolved as the plot progresses. Probably the most aggravating issue I had with the movie was the use of dream sequences.
Dream sequences in horror movies are either a hit or miss. When used effectively, dream sequences can show the viewer the inner psyche of a character while displaying imagery that is terrifying in a nightmarish sort of way such as Father Karras’ dream in the horror classic “The Exorcist.” In “The Boy” however, dream sequences don’t serve any other purpose than to show off some cheap scares that exist only in the dream because the scares wouldn’t make sense if they happened in reality.
Another issue I had with the movie is that more than once, the tension in some scenes would be ruined by close-ups of stuffed animals hanging on the walls of the house. This could have been scary if the animals were something that inspired fear like a wolf baring its teeth or something like a bear, but no, they’re close-ups of owls staring off camera. It’s random, out of place and only hurts the tension the movie is trying to create.
The ending of the movie is also flawed in that it just kind of ends. Some fairly big stuff happens in the end of the movie. What is bothersome is that the implications of these events aren’t really brought up in the movie’s final moments.
All-in-all however, the faults in “The Boy” aren’t enough to wear down the movie as a whole. The movie is genuinely scary, the actors all give solid performances and the climax of the movie was actually one of the most intense horror scenes from a wide-release horror movie in recent memory. That being said, you should probably realize what you’re buying when you buy a ticket: this movie isn’t the next “Sinister,” “Babadook” or “It Follows.” This is a good horror movie from a director that respects the genre and is getting better with each stab he takes at making a horror genre film.