The Boy, starring Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead’s Maggie) is a rickety movie built upon a tottering premise that completely self destructs in Act 3 … but I won’t lie, for the most part, I enjoyed it. Cohan plays a young American woman who applies for the job of nanny to the child of an elderly couple – trouble is, they live alone in a Gothic castle that looks straight out of The Woman in Black … and their child is … a doll with a porcelain head.
The rickiteness of the premise is pretty obvious from the get go, and is an unfortunate staple of horror movies: otherwise intelligent people doing stupid things for no well-defined reason – and then continuing to do them. Greta (Cohan) is a likeable character as soon as she’s introduced. She’s girl-next-door-cute, has a sympathetic backstory, and seems like a genuinely good person. When she interacts with the grocery delivery guy, Malcolm (Rupert Evans of Amazon’s The Man In The High Castle), it’s innocent and chaste. In terms of audience identification, Greta is more of a sister figure than that of a girlfriend. But she inevitably does stupid horror movie stuff, like continuing to stay in a giant old house in the country when weird stuff starts happening, then goes into dark places in this giant old house in the country when weird stuff starts happening. I understand that this is a trope that people enjoy on some level, but singularly it’s the one element in horror movies I can’t stand. For me, all behaviors can be explained in movies with a couple of lines of dialogue that express motive, or at the very least situation. You need your lead actress to go into the dark basement in the middle of the night? Give her a compelling reason to do so – otherwise all she’s doing is acting stupid.
The entire premise of The Boy is that it depends on a “woman doing something stupid” for the first half of the movie, but the events never bothered me that much (If I’m watching a horror movie I have to accept the stupid tropes), mostly because I found them compelling enough to want to understand the mystery surrounding the doll, named Brahms. It’s only a mild spoiler to reveal that the doll appears to be the stand-in for the real son of the elderly couple, also named Brahms – this reveal comes relatively early, and it isn’t withheld for plot purposes, but it does expose some more issues with the plot. For one, Brahms was born in 1983, according to the plot. Having lived in the UK up until 1991, I can’t recall any couple naming their child that. I’m sure plummy names within the UK aristocracy were, and are, commonplace, but this name just seems way too pretentious to sit well. Why use this kind of name? It isn’t integral to the plot whatsoever, so why bother? Also, it’s not important that Greta is American. There’s nothing about her motives and actions that arise because she’s American, so why bother? I don’t have major issues with details like this, but I’m also not fond of plot elements that don’t actually bring anything to the table because I think they only distract. Having said that, the motivation for Greta to ultimately decide to stay in the big house is subtle and affecting, and grows organically from her backstory. This 5 minute (or so) section at the midpoint is the best part of the movie, and is very enjoyable from a writing standpoint.
The good thing about the first two acts of The Boy is that atmosphere and mood are built up well, as is the air of mystery surrounding Brahms, heightened by a scene featuring Brahm’s parents. There’s also a nice piece of plot misdirection in regard to a key moment in the real Brahm’s history, as told to Greta by Malcolm. As Act 2 drew to a close, I was pretty convinced I knew how the movie was going to end. It would have been clichéd and predictable, sure.
But it would also have been much more satisfying than what actually happens. I suppose I must give credit to the writer, Stacey Menear, for attempting to throw in a major plot curve, but it’s simply the wrong choice here (in an interview I literally just read, even Menear questions his choice of ending, having witnessed some audience reactions). Act 3 begins with the introduction of a character that I’m sure was meant to be surprising, but it’s ludicrous. And while it’s kind of telegraphed early on, as soon as this character appeared, I realized that movie had instantly gone off the rails. This character introduction leads to the huge plot curve, and from that point until the end, I watched with a strong sense of disappointment and disinterest. It really felt like a beginning writer’s need to spring a “gotcha!” moment on the audience. I can’t elaborate of course, but the end result of the plot curve is that it too is ruined by bolting on elements of familiar movies that here don’t make any sense at all. There’s no reason whatsoever that a certain character should exhibit the kind of physical prowess observed in the climactic scene other than the fact it’s been seen in other similar movies. It’s a truly wretched, and silly ending to what had been interesting up to that point, a spectacular misfire that leads me to rate it thus: