The Boy: A Review
Last weekend I was in the mood for something scary and decided to check out The Boy, a movie about an old English couple who hire a nanny for their child, a boy named Brahms. If you’ve seen the trailer or even just a poster you know that Brahms is a life-sized doll. Creepy doll movies are among my horror favorites. Years ago, when I was a painter, my work focused on the disquiet we feel when we catch an unguarded glimpse of a doll plopped on something or discarded—its painted eyes staring placidly, seeing—what?
I perceived a quiet acceptance of its fate. Inevitably, it would be discarded. Soon it would be part of a landfill, probably sooner if it lost a limb or its head or when the fantasy it offered no longer entertained and something newer took its place.
I painted other toys besides dolls, but the blank gaze and snarled hair of my daughter’s favorite doll made it my favorite. I created an alternate reality for it—the theater of our child minds was where dolls and other toys existed. I set the stage and painted the scenes. That was many years ago. I had some shows and eventually moved on. Using dolls as subjects is no longer cutting-edge. Long after my paintings were done and gone, the movie series Toy Story explored this idea and though charming, much of it is poignant and dark. Dolls have that effect. Our toys are usually forgotten as we mature and like any friends we leave behind and then unexpectedly encounter, they know things.
Why do I tell you this? Most of us find dolls creepy, especially the life size ones like the ventriloquist’s dummy in the movie Magic, like Chucky, like Talking Tina in the Twilight Zone episode or Annabelle; like little Brahms.
I had expectations!
Written by new screenwriter, Stacey Menear (Mixtape) and staring Lauren Cohen (The Walking Dead), The Boy, directed by William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside), starts out well enough. Greta, a young American ends a long trip from the States, arriving somewhere in the English countryside to interview for a job as a nanny. She sees a big house that she deems “storybook” and I would describe as a standard horror movie mini-mansion. Inside, it definitely reads scary with the obligatory stuffed animals, bizarre knickknacks and lots and lots of stairs. No one is there to greet her. Intimidated and confused, she removes her boots before she explores. The boots disappear. There’s a family portrait of a couple in their late fifties and their son, a rather sullen little boy of eight.
As she and we are doing the math, figuring out how a couple that old could have a kid that young, a woman interrupts her. It’s the mom—or mum I should say. Only Mum is way older than she was in the portrait. After getting a list of to-dos and not to-dos, meeting Malcolm, the cute grocery guy who hesitates to give her the scoop on what’s going on, Greta meets Brahms. As we know and Greta finds out, Brahms is a life size doll. Greta struggles to keep a straight face as Mum talks to Brahms and describes his daily routine. The job is hers; unlike the other applicants whom he rejected, Brahms likes her.
Mummy and Daddy leave for a vacation. Later, we watch as they load their pockets with rocks and head into the ocean. Brahms is Greta’s problem now.
All right. I could go through the rest of the plot but it’s typical cat and mouse horror fare. As she’s left alone with the doll and rather than singing it a lullaby, fixing it breakfast, reading to it and all the rest, she tosses it on a chair and does what she likes. Some weird things happen. You guessed it. Predictably, Brahms is in a different place from where she left him, and is the doll looking at her? What was that noise?
When she sets up a date with Malcolm, the tiny gloves come off. Brahms is jealous. Greta’s in the shower and we see her jewelry slide away from the edge of the sink (does Brahmsie get his first woody?). Oh no! Her dress is gone and then later, Greta’s trapped in the attic and misses her date.
What’s going on? Less than you think. After days of harassment, Greta throws in the towel and works the program, hitting all the steps of the care and pretend feeding of Brahms. Concerned, Malcolm tries to persuade her to tone it down, but Greta’s convinced herself that what’s going on is supernatural. Malcolm told her that the real Brahms died years ago in a fire. He was eight, but he was, as people said, odd, and what was it about the little girl who disappeared back then? Was she the one he was glaring at in the old photo? Why, yes she was! Never mind. Greta’s survival instinct has kicked in and she’s going to do what Brahmsie wants.
All is well in Toyland until Greta’s abusive boyfriend tracks her down, the one who beat her to a pulp, forcing her to move to another country to avoid running into him. He wants her back, but Greta knows that Brahms doesn’t share. What Chuckyesque thing does Brahms have up his little sleeve? We eagerly await the cummuppins.
Then—the big disappointment. As bad boyfriend prepares to slaughter the Greta-defending Malcolm who is half his size, we wait for Brahms to defend his woman—I mean nanny. Suddenly a wall breaks open. A man wearing a doll-like mask rushes out and kills the boyfriend. Oh no! Brahms isn’t a devil doll! Instead, he’s generic–hidden-crazy guy! All this time he was hiding in the walls! How unusual!
Oh man—what a disappointment! So the rest of the movie is the chase. You know the drill. Brahms wants to kill and chases Greta and Malcolm who don’t want to die. Finally, with Malcolm seemingly down for the count, Big Boy Brahms has Greta on the bed! Just like when she tucked in Pretend Brahms, Big Boy wants a kiss! As he leers at her through the grotesque mask, presumably hiding scars from the long ago fire, Greta plunges a long screwdriver (very Freud) into him and she and a dazed Malcolm get the hell out. When the movie ends with Big Boy piecing together the shattered face of the doll, it dawns on me. Where have I seen this ending before? I don’t mean the crazy guy chase, but one where crazy guy hides in the walls to make us we think something supernatural is going on.
It’s the House Bound ending! Yes folks, check it out on Netflix!
Last year, I reviewed another of director William Brent Bell’s efforts, The Devil Inside. I summed it up by describing it as Godzilla versus the Smurfs. At the end of my review, I remarked that the story had no ending; it just stopped, as if they had run out of money.
It’s possible the ending of The Boy was the end result of the writer’s angst in finding the right resolution. I will say that much of the first half of The Boy entertains due to Cohen’s performance, and because of Stacey Menear’s deft handling of the exposition. It’s possible again, that the ending was a mere coincidence and nothing more, however my sense of having seen the exact same ending was overwhelming.
So how should it have ended? For a real scare, let’s keep the supernatural in tact. Let’s see—we have ghosts, devils, possession, voodoo . . .
I know. Let’s say Malcolm and bad boyfriend are dead, the victims of what? Greta is missing. Mummy and Daddy didn’t kill themselves. The police call them as they sip Mai tai’s on some beach. They return. Other than the bodies, the result they presume, of a crazed and still missing Greta, the police tell them that nothing else is amiss. Mummy rushes in to find Brahms, still dressed in his pajamas. Unlike the police, Mummy’s practiced eye spots a small drop of blood on her boy’s little hand. As she coos over what poor Brahms has endured, she sees something under the bed. It’s a Greta Doll! Mummy swears to never leave again as she nods her head. “Yes, of course she can stay!” At last, Brahms has a playmate.
Thank you Twilight Zone’s Talking Tina. Thank you Magic. Here’s a win for all you dolls in Toyland.