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.
Source: Trumbo vs. Big Mother
Blood, Sweat and Fears
BEWARE–this review is full of spoilers.
Crimson Peak is an okay ghost story about an American girl (with money) who marries an Englishman with a title, an old mansion, and a sister who likes poisoned tea and meat cleavers. Like the new bride on arriving at her new home, we find lots of motifs (the cold, the ratty mansion and more red than a mall at Christmas) but little in the way of scares, at least from anything supernatural. Yes, I know there were some moments where the undead plowed through a hallway carpet and rose from a vat of what looked like some super red preschool paint. The thing is, these devices don’t have the same effect anymore. The yawning death grin of Norman Bates’ mother scared the popcorn out of 1960’s audiences, but some times, and I’m talking to you, Guillermo, less is more.
I really enjoyed Mama, del Toro’s previous horror effort, but Mama, the actual ghost, with her absurdly elongated chin and little manic eyes looked like someone’s blind date nightmare. Much, much scarier was an earlier film of del Toro’s, The Devil’s Backbone. That one was truly eerie. Not only was the little boy ghost with a head of blood floaties like nothing I had ever seen, but the buildup to certain scares have stayed with me. Since I saw it for the first time, I avoid looking through keyholes.
One thing I’ve learned from watching Crimson Peak and Mama, del Toro’s latest scare-fests is if you’re the star and you die and come back from the dead, you get to be a good-looking ghost. In Mama, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau plays twins. One kills his wife and attempts to kill his children, and he dies as Mama’s first victim. One would assume, given his deeds, the dad would look like quite the troll in the afterlife, but noooo—he just looks sad.
The ghosts of all three victims of Crimson Peaks’ murderous brother and sister team, lost anything that might make them appealing and kept everything that rattled and oozed as they stalked poor vacant Edith (Mia Wasikowska). When she was a child, Edith’s dead mother appeared shortly after the funeral looking like a tar-drenched mummy with Halloween chattering teeth, ten-inch spikey fingers and wearing a funeral dress borrowed from Scarlet O’Hara’s Aunt Pitty Pat. So after being stalked by a number of gross looking ghosts, Edith tries to address what is eating (pardon the pun) the shades.
Alas, she discovers the truth. It’s murder and she’s next! But it’s complicated—She and Thomas (the brother) are in love and he’s having second thoughts. When sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) discovers that she and her brother Tom are no longer exclusive as a couple, hell hath no fury like Chastain. Seriously I would never want to have a fight with Jessica. She’s almost as manic here as she was in Zero Dark Thirty. A very fine actress, she steals every scene. And like every imperiled Victorian damsel, her old American boyfriend (Charlie Hunam—none of these actors are American other than Chastain), who makes it just in time to feel Lucille’s steel, saves Edith. Lucille, who makes quick work of the boyfriend, decides to teach Tom a lesson by shoving a knife through his face, and Edith has had enough. She takes Sister Dearest down, by whacking her with the business end of a shovel. Though the brave boyfriend, thanks to Tom, survives, Tom does not and his ghost distracts Lucille long enough for Edith’s shovel to make it count. And his ghost, looking rather gray, with blood floaties around his head, makes sad eyes at his soon to be out of there and on the way home bride. And for the star, Huddleston’s ghost, there were no chattering oversized teeth and no head parts with a gaping hole where your brains once sat. And Lucille? There’s not a hair out of place nor is there a bow untied as her ghost plays the piano. They wouldn’t dare.
In The Haunting of Hill House, what walked there, walked alone. And we never saw it. It was one of the scariest novels I ever read and the 1963 film, made of it, The Haunting, was incredibly creepy. During the 1999 remake, there were tons of scary special effects and each over-the-top one detracted. Though I love a good monster and a good acid-dripping alien, when it comes to ghosts, less is more.