Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I saw the Boy...

I fancy weird doll/puppet/mannequin stories, whether they're supernatural or psychologically based. My interest piqued in my younger years upon viewing such ventriloquist-dummy movies as “Dead of Night '45”; “Devil Doll '64”; and the "Psycho" structured “Magic”, not to mention such creepy offshoots as "Dead Silence"; “Child’s Play”; “Puppet Master”; "Pin"; "Annabelle"; and “Dolly Dearest." Oh, and then there were all those terrific television shows with their fine variations on the theme, like "Twilight Zone"; “Alfred Hitchock Presents"; "Goosebumps” ; "Mrs. Columbo"; "Boris Karloff's Thriller"; and "American Horror Story".

The latest in this eerie sub-genre, "The Boy" (now available for home viewing), is produced by imagi-movie filmmaker, Tom Rosenberg and directed by "Devil Inside'"s William Brent Bell. It stars Lauren Cohan (yep, dear ol’ Maggie from “The Walking Dead”) as Greta, an American nanny hired by an elderly British couple, the Heelshires (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle), to work in a gloomy, old mansion  to tend to...well, this particular doll. 

It’s actually a realistic representation of a boy, thus the film’s title: a kind of uncanny-valley, porcelain-headed thing, which due to its finely sculpted detail, looks almost alive. Greta learns that the eccentric couple lost their son, Brahms, in a fire, and the doll now occupies his spot. In fact, the couple instructs Greta on Brahm's care, ensuring that she treats the fabrication like (in the Pinocchio vein) a real-live boy. That she follow instructions is most important since the couple plans to go away on "holiday". 

The doll actually insinuates behavior, moving from one place to another about the abode when Greta grows lax in her care of it. This prompts her to wonder if the doll isn't, in fact, inhabited by a spirit, and naturally Brahms comes to mind. 

Greta's new boyfriend, Malcolm (Rupert "Man in the High Castle" Evans), enlightens her on the boy's background, which helps explain the Heelshires' ritualistic lament. However, the more Greta tries to come to terms with the situation, the stranger things become, and before long, she finds herself frightened out of her wits by an entity that insists on her love. To complicate matters, Greta's old boyfriend, Cole (Ben Robson) comes to visit, but his need for renewed affection only irritates the odd bond. 

What ultimately develops doesn't quite slip into the territory of a rampaging Chucky or Zuni Doll; but in its own right, "The Boy" does become as relentless as any prior devil-doll incarnation, though with an unnerving, psychological twist, which leaves the conclusion wide open for a sequel. 

Bell makes excellent use of Stacey Menear's haunting script, carefully staging matters so that even when the film borders on familiarity, it still commands one's attention. Though it's hardly a Val Lewton imprint, it also employs enough of the famed filmmaker's shadowy nuances to be a throwback of sorts, raising it above most modern horror fare. 

For Cohan fans, the film will surely satisfy. Like her television persona, Greta remains resourceful throughout and in the home's ominous corridors, wavers between maternal instinct and the desperate need to stay alive. 

The big star of the film, of course, is the doll: an unforgettable entity for all of its simplicity. Daniel Pearl's photography helps much this regard, capturing the prop in such a way to make it look like a catatonic child.

Perhaps, "The Boy" is more an exercise in atmosphere than a cinematic ground breaker, but for those who fancy this sub-genre (and again, I'm one such admirer), this entry will more than hold its own. 

1 comment:

  1. Please note: It was my sincerest intent to catch "The Boy" during its theatrical release. However, when it premiered, a snow storm prevented this. When the snow cleared, "The Boy" was only being shown during slots that I couldn't attend.

    It doesn't appear the movie made much impact at the box office, attracting only enough people to gain a cult following. Nonetheless, it's arrival for home viewing should grant it a larger audience, not to mention the fact that Lauren Cohan is in it. She'll be a big draw for certain when "Walking Dead" fans become aware of her headlining presence.