Four years ago, Lakeshore Entertainment released The Boy amidst the January doldrums. Despite its obvious similarities to The Conjuring Universe’s Annabelle, The Boy pleasantly surprised at the box office. Without much competition, the creepy doll thriller grossed just north of $35 million on a small budget. Yet rather than quickly capitalizing on the movie’s success, the studio dragged their feet on a follow-up. Maybe it was the delay or the sequel’s disconnect from the original, but Brahms: The Boy II tanked earlier this year. While hopes for a budding franchises have likely been shelved, The Boy still offers some worthwhile minor scares.
Looking to escape an abusive relationship, American Greta Evans heads to England for a nanny job. Upon her arrival, she meets her new employers, the elderly and eccentric Heelshires. But when the Heelshires introduce her to their son, Brahms, she’s shocked to discover that it’s a porcelain doll. Neither husband nor wife acknowledge that their son is dead. Instead, the Heelshires leave Greta with strict instruction’s for Brahm’s care. However, as Great’s days in the gloomy house pass by, she becomes convinced that Brahms, the doll, may be alive.
The Boy Overcomes Familiarity With Genuinely Creepy Atmosphere
Though The Boy treads on very familiar ground, director William Brent Bell and writer Stacey Menear make some smart creative decisions. As compared to Annabelle or Child’s Play, The Boy is much more methodical and restrained. Bell downplays gore and jump scares in favour of well-orchestrated atmosphere. True, for most of the movie, The Boy sticks to a familiar script. Brahms seemingly moves or turns a head offscreen. Things disappear or mysteriously appear. A child’s cries echo through dark halls. We’ve seen these tricks in past horror movies, so Bell hasn’t re-invented the wheel here. Nevertheless, The Boy’s effectiveness lies in part with Bell’s execution of these elements.
A Clever Subversion of Audience Expectations Sets The Boy Apart
In addition to Bell’s steady hand with the material, Menear’s screenplay cleverly subverts audience expectations in the movie’s final act. After building the story to what feels like an inevitable conclusion, The Boy genuinely startles with its final reveal. Most importantly, the movie’s final twist doesn’t cheat the story to which you’ve invested. Enough breadcrumbs are dropped over the movie, thus allowing keen viewers to piece things together. Everything ultimately fits even if it’s implausible. And when that twist hits, it very much shocks as intended.
…the movie’s final twist doesn’t cheat the story to which you’ve invested.
Outside of its creepy atmospherics and shock twist, The Boy benefits from some good performances. The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan turns in a convincing performance as a young woman caught in increasing bizarre circumstances. Her initial reaction to meeting Brahms perfectly captures a mix of shock and embarrassment. And as strange things increasingly happen around her, Cohan believably conveys desperation and the sense she’s losing a grip on reality. In a supporting Rupert Evans does fine with the material with which he’s given. Not much is really expected of anyone else in the movie. The Boy lives and dies on Cohan’s performance, which is more than up to the task.
The Boy Unoriginal But Surprisingly Effective Thriller
Technically, The Boy doesn’t do anything new and it’s not particularly innovative. After all, horror has no shortage of creepy doll movies. Even The Boy’s twist (no spoilers here) is an idea that’s popped up in past thrillers. But while there’s a lack of originality, The Boy still manages to be consistently engaging and creepy. In fact, its execution is done well enough to make the story beats and mystery still feel surprising. If the tease for a sequel feels unnecessary, the ride is still enjoyable. Though Brahms: The Boy II may have killed hopes for a franchise, The Boy is still an enjoyable, minor horror entry for genre fans.