The Boy seems to be cobbled together from several different horror movies. It is a scary doll movie that also happens to be a spooky English countryside home movie, with just a dash of poltergeist to help things get along. Its twists reveal even more inspiration, though we probably shouldn’t be giving that away. The movie doesn’t have many of its own original ideas, but it does have some fun with these borrowed elements. The Boy doesn’t quite match up with the much better films from which it borrows, but it still kind of fun all the same.
Greta (Lauren Cohan) has arrived at a home in the English countryside to serve as nanny for the Heelshires (Jim Norton and Diana Highcastle). She is tasked with taking care of their son, Brahms. When she gets there, she is surprised to find that Brahms isn't a real boy. Brahms is a doll that the Heelshires treat like their son. Greta is unsure of all this, but she decides to play along anyway. Unfortunately, she doesn't take the rules of caring for Brahms seriously, and as it turns out, there is much more to Brahms than it first appears.
So the game in this film is trying to figure out what Brahms is, exactly. The film doesn’t play coy with the fact that there is something strange about this doll, but the specificities of that strangeness are another matter. The film does have fun with the idea that this doll only affects things when no one is looking directly at it. The film is always suggesting that something is making that doll move, but in keeping its actions off frame, it creates enough of a mystery to sustain the film through most of its runtime.
It helps that the film seems to acknowledge that none of this stuff is to be taken seriously. The film’s greatest strength is in accepting the ridiculousness of the situation, and channeling all that through a main character that seems just unstable enough to accept all the strangeness. This isn’t really a very scary movie, because its developments are pretty silly when all is said and done. But it has a lot of fun with that silliness. The film never hides its outre sensibilities, letting things get loud and stupid at all the right times.
But the movie does lack originality, both in story and aesthetic. The film cribs some of its twists from other recent horror movies, the references so specific that it might give away the game to identify those films. And the look, though fairly appealing, isn’t distinct from any of dozens of films set in some home in the English countryside. Credit must go to Lauren Cohan, however, for being a pretty compelling horror heroine. There is just enough of a hint of the transgressive in Cohan, making her character’s dalliances with the insanity of the situation feel perfectly natural.
The thing about The Boy is that there isn’t really anything particularly distinct about it. It does steal almost every bit of itself from other horror movies, and a horror fan might be better off just seeking those other films. But if you’re in a fix, you could do much worse than The Boy. It may be not be original, but it does have some taste. And a great lead performance makes the film way more fun than it really ought to be.