I am going to do something a little different this time around. Because contemporary horror is so banal you can fill out a checklist of its tropes, I am going to guess the entire story of The Boy. As I write this introduction, it is Friday the 22nd and I am two hours from my showing. Everything I predict is based on what I know of bad horror and what I have seen in the promotional materials.
The doll is possessed by a boy named Brahms. He is a malevolent spirit that tormented his parents until they figured out if they let him kill women, he would leave them alone. Every year, they hire a nanny to look after the doll as a sacrifice. I have a feeling Rupert Evans’ character helps the parents acquire offerings. They hire Lauren Cohan, who gets wise to the charade, and tries to find out why the doll is so spooky. She discovers what is going on and at the climax, the spirit will posses Evans and try to kill her. Something might happen where he turns into a good guy and kills himself with the doll, setting himself on fire or blowing up the house. Then the spirit will posses Cohan and go out into the world.
Was I proven correct and is contemporary horror creatively bankrupt?
From here on there will be spoilers as I carefully explain how wrong I am. If you want the bottom line recommendation, skip to the very last paragraph.
Boy bills itself as a run-of-the-mill horror movie with jump-scares and all manner of garbage. That makes its marketing brilliant because 90% of the time, dumb teenagers want to see something that will make them scream or laugh out loud. While it is a detriment to the genre as a whole, jump-scares put a lot of butts in seats and the people who promoted Boy knew it. They totally fooled me because what we got instead of supernatural horror was a psychological thriller.
Any instance the supernatural happens in a dream sequence or is a fabrication via editing. In the end, the doll is nothing more than a component in a scheme by Brahms, who has been living in the crawlspace of his parents’ house for 20 years. He used the many passages to make it look like the doll was literally walking around and haunting the place to satisfy his psychotic needs.
Boy did a great job of making you think it was supernatural. At point-of-view shots, the camera films from waist-high angles while strange noises and crying echoes through the house. After Cohan moves in as the nanny, her clothes and jewelry go missing as she steadily goes crazy. When she comes to the conclusion the doll is alive, rather than freak out, she becomes excited at the prospect of interacting with a ghostly entity. She also develops a motherly bond with it and that is where the movie stumbles.
Prior to becoming a nanny, Cohan was involved in an abusive relationship. Right before the climax, we learn that in addition to having an unhinged partner, she also had a miscarriage. Being a traumatic event for anyone involved, she has enough anxiety to trigger her erratic behavior towards Brahms. Here is the problem: Lauren Cohan is far too adorable to be that crazy. They did not put any make-up on her, but I did not buy the whole stolen motherhood set-up. She needed strong visual indicators to make it believable like dark spots under her eyes or frilly hair. Even when she first laid eyes on the doll being coddled by the parents she was like “You guys are freaks” and thought it was creepy. She did not care about the doll replacing a dead kid narrative until after she figures out it is haunted, like the miscarriage arc was shoved into the script last-minute.
The movie also has pacing issues. The introduction was short as it ought to be, but the middle took up most of the runtime with no even spacing between events. It was all over the place where Cohan’s dress is stolen, she is locked in the attic, followed by more weird shit. Then the motherhood stuff happens, and the third act is about 10 minutes with the ex showing up, the twist, the confrontation and the conclusion. Fantastic Four was in much the same state, but Boy was not as frustrating and it worked better in comparison.
Everything else about it was pretty decent overall.
Is The Boy as good as It Follows, Krampus, or Green Inferno? No, but it is leagues ahead of The Gallows, The Forest, and The Lazarus Effect. My faith in contemporary horror is, for the moment, restored until I am reminded in spring that nothing good lasts forever. If you long for the days of good horror, give it a look while you still can. It is better than a January movie has any right to be.