Contemporary Review / Review

The Boy

by Joshua WiederBoy1If any doubt remained that the January doldrums has come round once more for us movie junkies, this release removed it. From director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside), The Boy is really nothing short of insulting. By the end of the film’s only 97-minute runtime, the only relief from the tedious plot progression comes from the film’s scary moments. That isn’t to say that those moments were actually scary, mind you—rather that they were so generic, so lazy and so unfathomably boring, that people in the theater were laughing out loud during moments that were meant to be frightening or revelatory.

The Boy tells the tale of Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan, of The Walking Dead), an American girl who elects to flee from her abusive ex by taking a nanny job in the U.K. for a family she has never met. In fact, how she even came into contact with these people is never explained. Upon arriving at her new job, she is surprised to discover that the child she has been sent to look after is not a child at all, but a creepy porcelain doll. The doll’s “parents” are willfully oblivious to this fact and treat the doll as if it were truly their son. The parents depart on a vacation, leaving Greta alone with the creepy doll. Naturally, the doll seems to come alive with time, moving objects and its own corporeal form on its own and providing an excuse for lame and predictable jump- scares.

And that really gets to the core problem of the film. Sure, the story is incomprehensibly silly and nonsensical, but if Stacey Menear’s debut screenplay was handled with any kind of directorial artistry or creativity, the narrative flaws could have been overcome. Unfortunately, every formal element of The Boy is simple and uninspired. Scenes of dialogue are filmed in repetitive shot-reverse shot. The lighting is flat. Actor blocking is boring and static. Interesting shots of creepy dolls and strange objects around the house towards the beginning hint at creative foreshadowing, but this foreshadowing ultimately goes unrealized. The main characters are caricatured and overly-sexualized as well (especially Lauren Cohan’s character, who can often be seen strutting about the set in nothing, but scandalous night-wear, or in one scene, wearing only a towel) and many of the scares are offensively lazy, drawing upon tired and stale horror film tropes.

The direction is terrible, sure, but the writing mustn’t escape blame. Some moments are so hackneyed that one can’t help but wonder how nobody on the production team noticed their inherent hilarity. Of the many jump-scares in the film, the punchline of not one, but two of them, is “it was just a dream.” In perhaps the funniest moment of the film, a character wakes up to find the words “GET OUT” written on the wall. In blood.

The messy plot concludes with a somewhat surprising twist, but by that time you’ll be so busy laughing that you’ll hardly even notice it happened. That being said, while it won’t be spoiled here, the twist is actually kind of clever and hints at a much more interesting story begging to be told. In fact, in the end, it seems as though the film chose to dance around the fascinating aspects of its world, fixating on things the audience doesn’t care about rather than exploring the admittedly interesting and thought-provoking back stories behind characters that are barely shown, like the parents, who disappear after only twenty minutes or so of screen time. Instead, we are forced into the perspective of Greta, a generic, unblemished, audience surrogate character.

The movie, like so many of its ilk, is a scam. Its production budget is obviously low, but its advertisement and distribution budget are sky-high, and the film is sure to rake in cash from consumers across the nation and the world. To add insult to injury, the film concludes by massively backtracking, completely undoing the climactic action, leaving the plot open to an inevitable sequel—which is sure to boast a similarly small budget—even lazier direction (if that’s possible) and a new set of underdeveloped, pointless characters.

2 out of 5 stars

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