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You might think that horror pictures about demonic dolls have worn out their welcome, but The Boy, a surprisingly creepy and unpretentious little movie about an American nanny who takes a job in England for a very unorthodox family, delivers the shivery goods. It may not break new ground, but it is capably made nonetheless, and has a few nifty surprises up its sleeve.
Fleeing an unsatisfying relationship, Greta (Lauren Cohan, appealing) treks to the English countryside for a job as a nanny to an eight-year-old boy. The first red flag is the decaying, gothic mansion whose windows are sealed shot. Next are the increasingly odd parents (a convicted Diana Hardcastle and Jim Norton), nearly housebound and in service to the boy’s every whim. The son? A child-sized porcelain doll named Brahms. Say what?
Understandably confused Greta soon surmises that the doll is a surrogate for their long-deceased son, who may have perished in a fire. They coddle him, tuck him into bed, and even prepare meals for him. But why do they nervously walk on eggshells? Merely eccentric or…something else? Greta nonetheless settles into the estate where additional duties include cleaning rat traps and making sure Brahms is given appropriate attention while never violating the cardinals rules of keeping his face uncovered at all times and ensuring he’s tucked in at bedtime.
When the parents leave on long overdue vacation and Greta is left alone with Brahms, she follows suit with the ruse. But it isn’t long before something strange seems afoot. Is Brahms moving around independently? Making himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? And who is speaking behind closed doors? Chucky? Annabelle? Brahms? Or maybe someone else?
Enter Malcolm (Rupert Evans), the local grocery delivery man who takes a liking to Greta and gradually coming to believe her assertion that dead boy’s spirit has inhabited the doll. But when Greta’s jealous American ex (Ben Robson) shows up attempting to coerce her back to the states, someone—perhaps Brahms—isn’t having it, and the screenplay take a major turn with a surprise that changes both the tone and direction of the story. Even when Stacey Menear’s screenplay reductively veers into less mysterious territory in its gory denouement, the cast works hard to suspend disbelief.
Helmed with style and thick atmosphere by The Devil Inside director William Brent Bell, The Boy breaks no new ground and features a handful of cheap scares but also a modicum of genuine suspense.