“The Boy” is not what you think it is.
I mean that in a good way. This is going to be a tough one to write, though. Much of what I both liked and disliked will have to be painted over in broad strokes because I refuse to spoil anything.
But there are different ways in which a film can end up being something other than what you expected. One way is in tone or genre, and that’s a regretful occurrence. This is almost always the fault of the marketing department, making a choice to advertise a film as what they think the audience wants rather than as what the film actually is. That’s not the case here. You’re getting a creepy, atmospheric horror movie. No rug pulled out from under you there. This isn’t “Crimson Peak”. In fact, the marketing department for “The Boy” deserves a bonus or a plate of cookies or something because they managed to completely hide the third act while not compromising the picture, itself. Tough to pull off. I applaud them.
Another way has to do entirely with the audience (as unique individuals) and their personal expectations that they have projected onto a film. You hear it all the time: “It wasn’t as ______ as I’d hoped it would be.” I can’t speak to that for you. For me, this movie attempted the two standard types of scares – jump and suspense – and was much more successful at one than the other. The jump scares – where something sudden happens, usually accompanied by a loud, fast blast of soundtrack – generally fell short for me with maybe one exception. They were predictable and clichéd, easily anticipated several seconds in advance. And the fact that a scare was coming wasn’t the only predictable aspect; it was also clear exactly what would happen to generate the attempted scare. In fact, the film even takes an oft-used trope that was obviously coming and then reused the exact same device later in the film! I can imagine reasons why this choice was made, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth.
The second type of scare – the suspense scare, where the tension and atmosphere build minute after minute, scene after scene, until you realize that you’re just generally feeling unnerved and in need of some relief – is much better executed. I had that feeling for almost the entirety of the film. And, for me personally, I prefer that type of scary to the jump scare. It permeates the film and sits with me for much longer afterwards. And often, it makes me reflect back on the film with more fondness if it was able to maintain that feeling. And, in my mind, “The Boy” succeeded here. Make no mistake, that doll was disconcerting as all crap. I’m already picturing full-sized replicas and Re-Action figures being manufactured and sold if it catches enough of a following.
So, when it comes down to it, I don’t think the movie will fall short of your expectations in that regard. It has a good mood and atmosphere if you let it take you where it wants you to go.
Where this movie truly surprised me was in the story and the characters – where it matters most. It reels you in and makes you think it’s trying to be just another “Conjuring”/”Annabelle” or “Dead Silence”. The filmmakers want you to think that. But it’s not. It’s its own thing and that pleasantly surprised me. They thought outside the box and it seemed to me as if they saw the other haunted doll films and said, “Okay, what if it was a haunted doll like those but this is the story behind it?” And I like that. It’s not a rip-off. It’s another take on the premise and – guess what? – ideas are allowed to be inspired by other ideas. It’s happened since writing began. And that’s what this is. And I liked their ideas.
Where it lost a little bit of steam for me is in its failure to fill those ideas out and give us a more complete picture behind the events in the film – why they were happening and even how. We get a little of that, but not quite enough. And I am not one who needs everything in every movie explained. In fact, I don’t want that in most cases. And I love devices like ambiguous endings, in certain films. And while an ambiguous ending is not what I’m getting at here, I feel there were just two or three too many unanswered questions that have to do with elements such as character motivation and the logistics behind the story. These things don’t always need to shine in a horror movie, but they at least need to connect and they don’t fully connect here.
Aside from that, Lauren Cohan gets to have fun, here, and gets enough opportunity to show off that it made this project worth her time. Sadly, she still plays an American so we don’t get her natural British accent even though that’s where the film takes place. But she’s one of the few “Walking Dead” stars who have nabbed a starring role in a motion picture and she did as much with it as anyone else could have, if not more. She also gets to play a logical character who behaved in a believable way given the events she was experiencing. If you say you would have behaved differently, I’m going to call you a liar.
All in all, I had fun with it. I liked the atmosphere and the fact that it subverted some clichés even while falling face-first into others. There were things that bothered me, as I mentioned, but they didn’t bother me enough to make me overlook the things that were done well. I imagine these flaws will frustrate some of you to a greater degree but never let the bad things blind you to the good. So, for me, this was like a frozen pizza that I can enjoy once I pick off the olives.
Trying to pick up some momentum in my March so I hope to be back, tomorrow! The snow storm, last weekend, slowed me down, so I have work to do! Have a good one!