Greta (Lauren Cohan) is an American nanny who arrives at the stately English mansion owned by Mr. and Mrs Heelsham having secured the job of looking after their son Brahms. The gig seems too good to be true; she’ll have free run of the grounds and get paid more in a week than she’d normally earn in a month. The Heelsham’s seem odd, but only in that antiquated English way that befits such a stranger-in-a-strange-land narrative. And then she’s introduced to the boy that she’ll be taking care of: a well dressed, clean cut, pale-skinned doll.
Initially reluctant to indulge this ritual, one born of a tragic background, Greta takes the job, and the rules which go with it, allowing the Heelsham’s to go on holiday, so that this weird maternal relationship can begin to unravel with a series of whispered phone-calls, stolen jewellery, and ghost faced stares that’ll bump your geese.
Director Bell is at home in the horror genre having helmed the forgettable The Devil Inside in 2012, an experience that has served him well in making The Boy with a much steadier hand. Aside from the final reel mechanics of having to build to something approaching a “showdown”, most of the film favours subtlety over your more prevalent and tedious “quiet quiet quiet quiet BOOM!” jump scares: figures are glimpsed in windows; shadows appear in the gaps of doorways, and anytime one of the human characters has to give Brahms a kiss on the cheek, it’s undeniably creepy.
The script also seems to understand the ridiculousness of a nanny turning up at a creepy looking house with Tim Burton aesthetics and not immediately turning around when they see a stock horror movie doll waiting for them. It does this by giving Greta a mysterious backstory, hinting at the fact she’s running from something far worse than a house of grief manifested as weird. Admittedly things descend into multiple contrivances come the end, but the intention to address what the audience is always thinking in a post-SCREAM playground, makes it stand out from recent lazy genre efforts, such as The Forest.
Holding everything together is The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan, who is terrific in her first leading lady role, approaching the scenario with the same dismissive attitude the audience will have. Her transformation from gum-chewing, eye-rolling sceptic, to unsettling Stockholm Syndrome-style doter, is utterly believable, especially in a film about a possessed doll.
It’s nowhere near a game changer such as It Follows, and the tropes begin to pile up as the suspense gives way to smashed glass and shouting, but in a marketplace saturated with dreck, you could do much worse than a few Friday night scares with The Boy.
Review by Matthew Rodgers