Friday, September 9, 2016

The Boy


I've always had an aversion to horror movies featuring the haunted subgenre aspect, which I'm sure I've communicated in the past.  Very few have been able to produce any frightening reactions from me and I've always seemed to be bored by them.  Nowadays, the ghost story type of films continuously go by the numbers and almost seem to follow a checklist of necessities to include.  It's as if the filmmakers go down the listdark and moody, check...slower than normal burn, check...jump scares every half-hour, checkand all these films end up like cookie-cutter copies of each other.
 
But, you know, there's always a gold vein out there that I must chisel out and if I have to chip away through dozens of films before finding it, so be it.
 
Although I don't speak much about television (this is Cinema Bits after all), one hot commodity out there is "The Walking Dead," which so happens to be a favorite of mine andas a side noteI can't wait for the new season to start.  The series has gone through six seasons and they're about to start their seventh, with most fans eager to find out what had happened after the cliffhanger ending of the last season's finale.  But one star from the show, Lauren Cohan (otherwise known as the character of Maggie), is one of the popular and likable of all the cast members, so she's very recognizable to most fans.  Of course, that can be a detriment to an actor or actress, as the more your face is associated as a character of a series, it makes it harder for movie audiences to distinguish the person from the persona they've created and made their own for many years.  So, I couldn't help but say to myself, after seeing the trailer for 2016's The Boy for the first time, Oh, that's Maggie from The Walking Dead!
 
All that notwithstanding, and speaking more of my initial viewing of the trailer for this film, I was far from being overwhelmed and had no inclination to travel to the local theater for a looksee when this was released.  See, my first impression of the film's premise was that it was an Annabelle rip-off and I just did not want to see another haunted doll flick.  However, I did give it to them for creating a doll that definitely had the creep factor about it, but I intentionally decided to wait to see it on DVD from my handy-dandy Netflix account.  So the occasion had come around the other day and I sat to watch The Boy.
 
Cue the synopsis...
 
While traveling to the United Kingdom from America, Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan) is hired as a nanny by Mr. And Mrs. Heelshire (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle, respectively) but is shocked that the English family's boy, Brahms, is actually a life-sized doll.  After Greta violates a list of strict rules, disturbing events make her believe that the doll is really alive.
 
Now, there are a few things in here that are reminiscent of classic horror movies, like the huge manor where the story takes placeit's a cathedral-like Victorian mansion, with many rooms and not enough light to penetrate every space, giving the film an already spooky feeling.  Also, this huge manor is in the middle of nowhere with no other buildings in sight.  In addition, being that the rest of the cast are from the UK also gives you that feeling of seeing a scary movie from yesteryear.
 
For the setup of this story, as Greta is brought in to the mansion and finally meets the Heelshires, I thought it was typical how the filmmakers kind of show Mrs. Heelshire as a mean-spirited snob.  She's introduced to us as sort of callous and hardhearted towards Greta, not to mention the standard Brit-who-loathes-Americans character she's made out to be at first, and I'm with the movie so far.  Even as we have our introduction of the doll, as the Heelshires present it as their son, Brahms, I was totally understanding Greta's reaction as she starts laughing, thinking this was some sort of joke.  What I hadn't gotten is why Greta stays when it's quickly brought to the forefront that the Heelshires appear to really believe that the creepy doll is their son.  A list is even discussed on how Greta is supposed to read the doll poetry, play music for it, change its clothes, so on and so on.  If it was me, I'd be asking to borrow the phone to call a taxi to bring me back to the city.  Nevertheless, there is a plot point posed later that sort of explains why she stays-more on that later.
 
Another character in this film is Malcolm (Rupert Evans) and I took this character as being a red herring throughout.  Quite a few times there was mention of how he's known the family for a long time and how he's the same age as the Heelshire's son who'd passed away years before.  But he's here from the beginning of the story, explained as the Heelshire's grocery delivery person, and I thought that was kind of thin and thought there had to be more to him than that.  Without giving important plot details away, I really thought Malcolm was going to be a turnaround character in the third act of this film.  As a nod to the actor, it was nice to see him again as I hadn't seen him in any film (not that he hasn't worked)that I remembersince seeing him in Hellboy years before.
 
Now, the plot point that I'd mentioned, regarding the reason why Greta doesn't leave when she finds out that she's going to be a nanny for a doll is that she's basically running away from her problems back home.  Through her telephone conversations with her friend back home, the exposition is given to us that she has an abusive boyfriend back home that she's hiding from after leaving him.  I felt it was kind of thin, that maybe this aspect of the story could've been fleshed out a bit more in the writing.  But it hints at a bit of a love triangle as her boyfriend, Cole (Ben Robson), shows up and seems to size up Malcolm.  Nothing comes to a head with this dilemma, however, and I felt the filmmakers missed the mark to make this whole situation more interesting.  Instead, it just seemed like an unnecessary plot thread that goes nowhere.
 
Director William Brent Bell has been around the block with horror movies, seemingly an auteur in the genre, with The Devil Inside being his last big studio film before helming The Boy.  He does well with establishing the scenes, giving us the right amount of ambience and mood, never going over the top or going too much into the clich├ęd movie-making tropes.  Bell does what he can with this story, which has some merits but comes with some problems and plot holes, and gives us a slightly above-average scary movie.  Speaking of the story, the screenplay was written by Stacey Menear and if you've never heard of the name, you're not alone.  According to IMDb, Menear has only three credits under her name, all as a writer: The Boy, Mixtape, and Dennis the Menace.  The last two have not been released yet (apparently, the last title is going to be, yet another, remake), so this film was her first writing credit.  And...it's not bad...it's not great.  I'll just say she gets an 'A' for effort in her first outing as a writer.
 
To sum it all up, I'll have to say that I'm sorry I couldn't go too much further into the story, but I really don't want to give any part of it away, so let me give you my final "bit" on The Boy.
 
The film starts off strong and I was never really bored, nor was I ever wanting to shut it off after starting it.  There were quite a few eerie moments throughout to unnerve the average moviegoer and the designer of that doll should win an award.  The movie moves you in one direction throughout the first and  second thirds of it, changing direction quite forcefully and mysteriously while giving the film a whole other genre in the process.  Speaking of that, I found it to be a very strange decision on how they came to elect upon this facet of the story and I'm not quite sure on how I feel about that.  On one hand, it shocked me and explained everything rationally, but on the other hand it was sort of a cheat.  That aside, the direction and acting surely was top notch, there weren't too many instances that ever came up to make me think that the characters were acting unlike someone would in real life (besides not running out of that mansion when unexplained ruckuses start happening), so I'd recommend you all give this a look.  Certainly nothing I'd purchase for my collection, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
 
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