January can often be dumping grounds for subpar studio fare, which can be an annoyance for some, but for fans of cheap, wacky horror this first round of cinematic crap can bring many blessings. Fresh off the heels of the mostly-alright The Forest, The Boy is the first of the year’s truly campy treasures. I’m always a sucker for the evil doll horror as a genre, so it was a given that I’d see The Boy no matter what, but the film actually delivered the bonus points of a major third act surprise that I honestly didn’t see coming, since I had boxed the film into the confines of the evil doll genre. I expected The Boy to play out more or less exactly like the last PG-13 evil doll movie to hit the theaters, the largely disappointing Rosemary’s Baby knockoff Annabelle, but the film sets its sights much higher than that light supernatural tomfoolery. It’s far from wholly original as a horror flick, but instead it pulls enough wacky ideas form a wide enough range of disparate horror movie sources that it ended up being an enjoyably kooky melting pot of repurposed ideas.
Greta, an American woman (played by The Walking Dead‘s Lauren Cohan), takes on the job of a long-term nanny for a wealthy young boy in the English countryside while his aging parents are away on a holiday. This would all be well & good if the titular “boy”, Brahms, were actually a living, breathing child, but he’s not. Brahms is a creepy porcelain doll, life-sized, but far from lively. A lot of The Boy‘s early creepiness relies heavily on the basic dynamics of this set up. Greta initially laughs when she’s introduced to Brahms, but her smile soon fades when she realizes how committed to the act his parents are. It’s unnerving enough that they’ve isolated themselves in an ancient English manor with their doll boy, his antique toys, and their dead-stare taxidermy, but by the time they’re calling each other “Mommy” & “Daddy” in regular conversation & asking to speak with Brahms privately, the film achieves an even weirder undercurrent than what’s promised in the trailers. Things get even weirder from there as Greta herself falls under Brahms’ spell, dressing & feeding him on his requested schedule & believing that she can hear him sob in his room & speak on the telephone.
The Boy‘s greatest asset is that it doesn’t stop there. A sharp left turn in the third act completely obliterates the slowburn psychological/supernatural horror established in the first half & delves into some utterly bonkers motherfuckery that should be a crowdpleaser among schlock junkies & trashy horror lovers. Like I said, the film is far from a wholly original work. It pulls from titles as recent as Dead Silence & Housebound and as far back in time as Pin & Friday the 13th. I’m pretty lenient on the horror genre relying on tropes & cliches to deliver its cheap thrills, though, and The Boy really does prove itself a solidly fun thrill of a horror film in the end, even if it functions as a pastiche. I don’t know if it’s because my expectations were so muted by its dull trailer or its early January release date, but I ended up really enjoying the film for what it was: a remarkably silly, sometimes eerie slice of genre-bound trash.