No doubt, when a lot of people saw the previews for “The Boy,” they rolled their eyes and thought, not another creepy doll movie.
But this one did offer an interesting twist — the doll in the story is life-size and is being used by an aging couple as a substitute for their child who died years earlier, caring for it as if it were a real person. This does present a sad, and yes creepy, story of two potentially very unstable people unable to accept reality and move on with their lives.
And then there are the paranormal possibilities.
The screenplay was written by Stacey Menear, this being his first script to be made into a movie. The director, William Brent Bell, has only four other movies under his belt.
The filmmakers put together an admirable effort. There will be those who will shake their heads after seeing “The Boy,” and declare it lame. Others will appreciate that the movie can grab the viewer because it doesn’t telegraph where it is going.
Scoring Lauren Cohan in the starring role is a big plus, as she is high profile right now with legions of fans who love her character Maggie Greene in “The Walking Dead.”
Cohan plays Greta Evans, an American woman who travels to England to serve as a nanny to a boy named Brahms. The boy lives with his parents in one of those old castle-like, secluded residents that have a “bad things happen here” vibe.
Naturally, Greta arrives carrying some emotional baggage, indicating this is not only a job she is accepting but also an escape.
When Greta meets the parents of Brahms, it already looks fishy. Mr. and and Mrs. Heelshire (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) seem way too old to have a child that needs a nanny. Interestingly, this does not seem to register with Greta until she is introduced to Brahms, who happens to be a life-size doll. Greta’s “is this a joke” abashed laugh is met with solemn stares from the Heelshires.
During an orientation on the house and what her duties will be, Greta likely concludes that Mrs. Heelshire has clearly gone over the edge while Mr. Heelshire just plays along because he loves and supports his wife.
Fortunately for Greta, there is a voice of sanity in the form of Malcolm (Rupert Evans from “The Man in the High Castle” series), a young man who brings weekly food deliveries to the Heelshire house. Once the Heelshires depart for a long-awaited vacation, Malcolm clues in Greta on the story: Brahms died in a fire in this house on his eighth birthday in 1991. Malcolm takes Greta to Brahms’ grave on the property. Malcolm’s attitude is, yeah, it’s weird and sad, but just play along.
Greta has been left with a list of a daily routine involving Brahms that clearly indicates Brahms was a very pampered and likely sensitive and possibly socially isolated child.
Of course, now alone in the house, Greta has no intention of carrying on this charade of feeding, dressing, reading to and putting to bed an inanimate object. Besides, she has her own distractions, as her past simply will not go away.
Then the strange things start happening. The huge house is the archetypal setting for spooky occurrences: thumps, distant voices, things disappearing and an attic with an access way that has a mind of its own.
The script injects a couple of “it’s only a dream” moments but it is clearly evident that someone or something is not happy about Greta shirking her duties.
It is a credit to the filmmakers that “The Boy” manages to capture the attention of the audience, not only by drawing viewers into Greta’s life but also throwing in Malcolm who might be a love interest for the woman while also being someone who might know more than he is saying.
Cohan deserves kudos for being able to play opposite a doll in a way that does not induce giggling. And when things get intense, Greta steps up — this being something “The Walking Dead” fans would expect from Cohan, whose Maggie Greene has been a tough survivor in that zombie apocalypse.
For “The Boy” to work, Cohan had to convincingly portray Greta as evolving from a person who approaches the job with skepticism to someone who sincerely embraces the possibility something paranormal is going on, and thus develops a relationship with the doll. She pulls this off, and then proves resourceful when confronting a dangerous situation.
“The Boy” takes a risky turn that might have some feeling betrayed while others will see it as the best logical conclusion. Either way, “The Boy,” is an effective little chiller and a nice showcase for Cohan, who effectively steps from an ensemble effort in “The Walking Dead” into a starring role.