An American nanny on the run from a difficult recent past takes a job at a secluded English manor house and is as disturbed as the viewer to discover that the boy she has been hired to look after is in fact, a doll, which might not be as lifeless as she first thinks.
The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan, as the unfortunate nanny, is a strong presence and gives a very likeable central performance, surrounded as she is by only a small handful of other characters. Cohan hits her beats perfectly, remaining nicely sympathetic and thankfully never tipping into annoying hysteria as events build around her.
William Brent Bell directs with some genuinely creepy sequences and at a lovely, measured pace, in a style not often afforded to modern horror films. In fact The Boy has the feel of a higher budgeted Hammer House of Horror episode that makes for an enjoyable viewing, for the first three quarters of the running time at least.
Of the film’s weaknesses, and there a few, the reliance on dream sequences is unnecessary and unfortunate, since the rest of the film seems smart enough to have avoided such tired clichés, and there’s a wonderful feeling of English quirkiness in the first act, in fact downright weirdness, that I wish had been continued through the rest of the film. At one point I could imagine it becoming become a particularly mordant episode of The League of Gentlemen, commenting on the phenomenon of ‘reborn’ dolls.
Finally, the third act revelation is a major let down – even involving one character pulling a stunt so groan-inducing it seems difficult to believe no one vetoed it in the editing room – as events suddenly lurch into slasher-film territory and sabotage the good will built up by the previous eighty minutes.
It’s a shame, because had the story stuck to its guns this could have been a highly effective chiller, built mostly around restraint and atmosphere. Instead, the final twist left me shrugging and rolling my eyes… which at least is appropriate to the film’s final shot, I guess.
There’s enough good stuff here to make me interested in whatever director Bell does next, as this might have been an excellent addition to both horror sub-genres of spooky doll and child ghost movies, but sadly this toy story doesn’t have legs to stand on.