Written by Stacey Menear and Directed by William Brent Bell.
Ghost stories are the type of Horror film I usually stay away from. Most of the time those are the types of genre films that rely too much on jump scares. Unfortunately, while I’ve more or less gotten used to Horror I still absolutely DESPISE jump scares. So, when I first saw the trailers for this film I figured it would be one I’d skip. Then I read about the twist and became a lot more interested. This movie is no ordinary haunted doll tale.
Like All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, there is a huge twist in this movie so from this point on I’ll put a MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT.
The story for the film is very simple. A woman on the run from her past goes to a house in the English country where she’s been hired to take care of a child. And that about sums it up. The characters of the film aren’t particularly interesting and while they’re well acted (more on that in a bit), they aren’t what makes the film. It’s how it all plays out. From the beginning, it feels like Annabelle 2.0 or something close. Creepy atmosphere, a few scares here and there, and a nightmarish doll. For most of the runtime it plays out with the idea that the doll IS really haunted, even at a point giving a break from the scares when the main character begins to believe that Brahms has come back through the doll, but through it all you’re not quite convinced because you feel like something is missing. Except for in nightmares the boy never moves, never talks, never gives away much. It digs in more and more though, keeping it up with the idea which I have to give the writing credit for. They don’t just drop and give the audience the twist right away. They take time and make you try to believe one thing before bringing out the other. Because I had read the twist beforehand I knew it was coming, but I imagine if you didn’t know about the twist, and even knowing about it, it’s quite brilliant. Giving the twist of “it’s not actually haunted” adds another level of horror. It’s not just a ghost story, it’s a thriller. But the film does suffer, unfortunately. While the third act plays out like a slasher flick with a creepy, masked, villain, the rest of the film plays out like a ghost story. Because of that mix between and no real build up to the slasher you feel like it could’ve been two separate films. From what I’ve read of the original draft there was much more to the adult Brahms twist built in earlier and it was much more of a thriller film than an outright haunting one.
The acting is good for what the characters are given. There’s no real big arcs or changes for any of them but you find yourself following the main character, Greta. Lauren Cohen does amazing with the script she’s given. She plays the train ride of emotions that her character goes through so convincingly it’s easy to see her as someone real. You feel sorry when she talks about losing her child and when she shows the grocery boy Brahms “ghost” she has such glee and amazement on her face that you feel it too. When her ex shows up and you feel the hurt and fear in her you want her to get away. Rupert Evans (it’s good to see him back after Hellboy, I hadn’t seen him in anything since) gives a good performance as the grocery man who is the cliché “handsome dude in the country who main character falls for”. He’s genuinely nice and he gives the character such kindness. The doll Brahms is just as much a character as the other two and through clever directing he’s brought to life, making it look like he’s listening when the others talk, and when he moves, before the twist, you almost feel like he is a ghost.
The directing shines through on this film. While the story plays out more like a ghost story the directing plays out like a thriller. The angle of the film at points feel like you’re peaking in much like the real Brahms, and it always gives the sense that she’s being watched. There are moments when it either focuses on someone’s eyes or someone else’s feet that hammer in that point. The music in the film is extremely good. It plays at points almost like a song from a fairy tale or Pans Labyrinth and as the opening theme plays over the titles you get a sense of that tale. The tale Brahms wants it to be with his own woman and everything.
But the most brilliant moment in both sound and design and directing, though, is the moment of the twist. It builds up perfectly. After the Greta’s ex-boyfriend breaks the Brahms doll everything stops. It goes quiet. And then the house begins to shake and for a moment you finally believe that Brahms was a spirit just like Greta had thought. Then it goes quiet again, and just like a moment foreshadowed earlier in one of Greta’s nightmares Brahms, the REAL Brahms, bursts through a mirror and kills her ex. It’s out of the blue, it’s shocking, and it shatters your perception of what the film was both visually and story-wise.
The Boy isn’t the most complicated or awe-inspiring horror movie but it has one of the best twists I’ve seen in a modern Horror film. It has good acting and an interesting villain and is extremely well shot but the script suffers from wanting more moments of “is the doll real” instead of building up more suspense where it mattered. If you’re up for a film with a creepy atmosphere and good characters, though, this is the film for you.
So, have you seen The Boy? What did you think of it?
I’ll see you for the next review!