I will admit that I was looking to hate this. The trailers made the movie look so bad that it would be fun. It is not that bad. It would be a stretch to call “The Boy” a good film, but it is not honestly that bad of a film. It dodges enough doll horror cliches, gets knocked down by a few general horror cliches, but if I were a studio executive I would consider this good enough to be released in October instead of January.
The most important part of a doll horror movie is the doll. If I see the doll move, I will instantly hate the film. Brahms, the titular boy, does not move on screen. The doll will change position while the camera looks away, but it is never used for cheap scares. The camera does not at any point whip around to show the doll for a jump scare. The lighting inside of the house will change, and that lets the doll emote in a way. The cinematography does deserve props, and that unit is led by the lighting. The cameras do not move or cut too often. This is important. For whatever reason, maybe the perceived attention span of the target audience, too many mainstream horror films use too many cuts, and “The Boy” does not have that problem. It lets the tension build. It lets the viewers become unsettled by the environment. The score is passable. It doesn’t leave much of a presence, but there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s rare to see a score that doesn’t rely on the drain and swell formula.
Unfortunately, though I respect the genre elements of the film, I was never actually frightened in any way by it. It does put emphasis on jump scares. This is isn’t inherently bad, and the jump scares could have worked here, but they are often in the context of multiple dream sequences. These dreams relate to nothing and are never referenced again. They only exist so that the big jump scares that end them can be included in the trailers. The twist was cool enough to watch, but it does prevent the rest of the movie from making too much sense. It’s not a completely unique twist, but it’s definitely not used too much. Even then, though, I have a little bit of praise for both of those elements.
At the end of the day, my number one horror rule is that the film can only be truly great if the scares happen to characters that I care about. And while “The Boy” might be a decent genre piece, it is a very bad movie. Other than lead Lauren Cohad, who makes for a fine scream queen, the acting is atrocious. Rupert Evans is unconvincing as a grocery boy who falls in love with Lauren, maybe, because his poor acting made his feelings towards her rather unclear. Ben Robson collects a paycheck as a plot device who spews exposition about Lauren’s past. The plot itself, like the rest of the film, is a good enough idea, but falls flat in execution. Lauren is the nanny of a family, who’s son Brahms died 20 years ago at age 8, so they have her take care of a doll. It is never explained why they would need a nanny or grocery boy at all, or how they acquire one without having jobs or permitting communication with the outside world. The writing has a few laughable lines. Ben Robson’s character starts a few lines with “As you know”, which as you know is one phrase that should never be uttered in a script. The characters are nonexistent. Nobody has a personality, or anything to distinguish them other than the fact that there are only about 5 people with speaking parts and none of them look similar. The pacing was off for most of the film. It was appropriately slow during the second act, but the beginning drags and the conclusion is rushed. Director William Brent Bell has a better understanding of filmmaking then he did four years ago when he defecated on movies with “The Devil Inside”, but the tone is inconsistent from scene to scene and character to character. Brahm’s parents act like they’re in on the joke of having a doll for a son, which ruins any emotional impact that their later development might have had. Ben Robson is a completely serious abusive boyfriend, who treats the performance like a dark drama. Lauren Cohan goes back and forth, from playing her role like a comedy to being genuinely scared of the doll, often without the doll actually doing anything to justify this change in behavior. I would guess that Bell wanted this project to be taken seriously as dark horror, but producers wanted a lighter take on the silly premise. One approach isn’t better than the other, but Bell needed to pick one and stick with it. Trying to do both stops the film from being cohesive.
“The Boy” is fine, I suppose. You could do much worse in finding a January horror film, but that doesn’t make it good, just comparatively less bad than its peers such as “The Forest” or “The Other Side of the Door”. If you like the idea, it’s worth a rent, and I wouldn’t consider it to be a definite skip no matter what. The 4 is surprisingly okay, and it could have been worse than it was.