The Boy and all the images you see in this review are owned by STX Entertainment
Directed by William Brent Bell
Today is a day of celebration! As hard as it is to believe, there is a movie released in January that is actually worth seeing. It’s not just good; it’s GREAT and honestly hasn’t been selling itself as anything other than a low budget gimmicky horror cash grab which oddly enough ISN’T a Blumhouse joint. Hell, maybe that’s the key difference here. Blumhouse releases so many films a year (some good, some bad) that it took a fresh studio to get this right! Oh wait. This is STX Entertainment, and their only other releases were Secret in the Eyes which is one of the most poorly executed drama’s I’ve ever seen, and The Gift which is supposed to be really good but is also a Blumhouse collaboration. Eh, they’re still a pretty new studio and this defiantly a great film to have as your third outing! Just how good is it? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows Greta (Lauren Cohan) who has recently been hired by the Heelshire family (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) to be the nanny for their son Brahms for a few weeks as they go out on holiday. For some reason, this family living in a preeminent estate in the British countryside (where there obvious is no wi-fi or cell reception) hired a nanny ALL the way from freaking Montana but Greta is more than happy to get away from her old life and hopes to get a fresh start or at least some time to get herself together. Seems perfect, right? Well what they failed to mention in their want ad is that the boy in question is actually a porcelain doll with the perfectly parted hair of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and eyes that stare into the darkest depths of your soul. Clearly the two owners of this house have… issues that need to be resolved but they certainly aren’t taking this holiday to see a therapist, so Greta is all alone in the house with the doll and the only company she has is the weekly visit from the grocery delivery guy Malcolm (Rupert Evans) and the occasional phone call from her sister. Now the couple has entrusted her with their son and have given her a list of rules and daily activities that she needs to follow in order to keep him happy, but Greta reasonably (though obviously wrongly) ignores these as the doll is… well a doll. Strange things begin to happen however and with no rational explanation for these events, she begins to turn to the irrational which could mean that the doll is actually alive. Will she be able to survive in this house with the doll constantly creeping on her? Has she simply lost her mind due to the isolation of this estate and the over looming threat of her past coming back to find her? WHY IS IT STILL LOOKING AT ME!?!?
So it’s already clear that I really like this movie, but what about it makes it so much better than what the trailers are advertising? Honestly, it’s because the characters are engaging, intelligent, and there’s genuine intrigue going on, none of which you’d guess from the commercials. It really does come across in the promotional material like a standard Child’s Play rip off that only got green lit after that Annabelle movie got over two hundred million at the box office. It’s a shame because there’s a strong story here about Greta and the ways she has been coping with the trauma she’s had to endure up to this point. I’ve never really been a fan of ghost stories because they rarely have interesting characters and the relative threat that they impose is almost never clear enough to know when a character is NOT in danger; something you need so that you can shock the audience by violating that brief sense of security. This actually handles both problems BEAUTIFULLY because Greta is an interesting person to follow, and there comes a point in the movie where she takes an active role in diminishing the danger that could potentially be enclosing on her. Not only that, but as her backstory is revealed to us, it becomes clear that this relationship between her and whatever it is in the house that’s leeching off of her is also giving her something that she desperately wants right now, though the specific circumstances she finds herself in are hardly healthy.
Malcolm as the grocery boy (who’s still doing this as a grown ass man) is fine in the movie and definitely comes into his own towards the end, though he isn’t nearly as interesting as Greta and feels like his main purpose is to be a red herring until the movie decides to play its hand at the half-way point. Basically what happens is that it becomes clear to not only Greta but to Malcolm as well that there is something going on here that defies typical explanation. Maybe it’s a ghost in the house; maybe the doll is alive in some way. Whatever it is though, they decide to go with it and plan a course of action rather than try to deny its existence or run screaming for the hills. It’s a very interesting direction to take this as very few movies try to engage whatever it is that’s after them. I’m a huge fan of the Friday the 13th movies, but probably my favorite moment in any of them is in Jason X where it turns out he’s been in jail for some time now. You know… before he gets frozen and winds up in the future. Okay, not a GREAT movie, but that idea has always stuck with me as something worth exploring in other films. What if we had to DEAL with the monster instead of just running away from it or being the victim of it? We’ve seen the movies where scary things come out of the wood work to kill a bunch of teenagers, but how often has the monster been a character with feelings or a motivation other than to kill everything? Even personality driven horror movie staples like Chucky, Freddy Kruger, or even Leather Face to a degree very rarely have anything going on other than the desire to murder or crack wise. Here, it’s certainly more than we would expect as the “presence” as it were does respond to Greta when she tries to reach out to it in some way. Whether or not it’s good for Greta to be doing this is something I won’t want to spoil, but needless to say that this was a fascinating direction for the movie to take. Now it’s not like we haven’t seen ghost stories where they turn out to not be murderous (not saying this movie is either way on that) but even when they are bearers of bad news, they tend to interact with the living in very inhuman ways which means that these kind of ghosts are very rarely compelling in their own right. The mystery here isn’t so much what it is that’s in the house (though that is a very interesting part of it); the mystery is what it REALLY wants.
Now there is a major twist that I have been trying to avoid and it’s honestly one of the better twists I’ve seen in a while, though I’d say more so in execution than in genuine shock. It’s not the most unpredictable movie as I had three theories while watching this movie and sure enough one of them turned out to be what the twist was. However, of the three it was definitely the one I was hoping would be correct as it had the most potential for interesting ideas. Sure enough, once the shit hits the fan and all the cards are on the table, they manage to pull it off… mostly. I’d say that it could have been A BIT more thoughtful in its execution (turns into a big escape sequence when they could have slowed down a tad) but it’s still a lot stronger than many other horror movies we’ve been subjected to recently. It just makes all the right decisions throughout as it carefully decides when to make the movie feel more supernatural, more psychological, and even when to put some real-world horrors into it.
There’s not a whole lot to knock the movie for but if I were to criticize one thing, I say it takes just a bit too long to get going. You could have easily shortened the first act by ten or fifteen minutes and it would have helped the movies pacing a bit, and there are also some sequences early on where they have a jump scare and it turns out to be a dream. I always hate it when the peek-a-boo shock is merely part of a dream because in those instances there are no consequences for the jump scare which makes it blatantly obvious that it solely exists for the audience and not to advance the story. That’s also where we get some tiresome horror movie clichés like the fact that there’s no cell reception and that this place is FAR OUT in the countryside where NO ONE would be able to help, and of course the house is full of creepy bullshit like toys from the thirties (despite all the events of this movie, past and present, taking place no earlier than the early nineties) and plenty of severed animal heads on the walls. It took a while for me to warm up to the movie because of this, but it eventually finds its way. Another issue I had was with the way that the Heelshire’s depart from the movie which is fucking laughable and I honestly don’t see the point in it. It serves the purpose of digging Greta into a bigger hole since they won’t be coming back for their son, but it also feels overly convenient in a movie that does so well with all of its other characters.
It’s still very early in the year so maybe I’m just glad to see ANYTHING of substance in the same month we got crap like The Forest or Dirty Grandpa, but I really do think that this movie is a damn solid psychological thriller that’s been buried inside of what appears to be a very standard horror film. There are some moments of weakness here and there (particularly in the beginning) but it’s still a fascinating story to see unfold. Considering what the competition is right now, there’s no question that this is the best film in theaters unless you’re planning on seeing Star Wars again. It’s engaging, it has some depth, and while it may not be TOO surprising, it’s at least trying to be more than jump scares and screaming women. It’s about trauma, obsession, and coping while still being a decently made ghost house experience. Definitely give it a shot as it’s easily the best movie during the worst time at the theaters.
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