Zombos Says: Good
Beautifully filmed and with a brooding country mansion harboring dark secrets, The Boy doesn't pack an emotional wallop from intense scares or mind-numbing body counts, but what you will find in this gentle-gothic, that borrows much from other horror movies, is a simple treat of creepiness and mystery.
Lauren Cohan plays an American, Greta Evans, traveling to the Heelshire's family estate in the United Kingdom. It's an old, large, stuffy, and filled with hunting tweediness and wood trimmings kind of mansion, forgotten deep in the surrounding woods. Mom and Dad Heelshire need a nanny to take care of their son as they go on a much needed vacation away from--their son. They introduce 8 year old Brahms to her, but he's a life-sized porcelain doll, neatly dressed and somewhat melancholy in expression.
She laughs. They look appalled. She realizes they are serious. She settles in. Greta needed to get away so she has little choice. The grocery man, Malcolm (Rupert Evans), warms up to her and explains the background of Brahms and his parents. He gives Greta the pub gossip version and the regular gentrified version, and both tend toward providing just enough information for us to know there's something odd going on with the Heelshire's and their very odd son: the porcelain one and the real one.
The Heelshire's (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) look tired, on edge, and desperate to leave the mansion. Mrs. Heelshire apologizes to Greta for leaving her alone with Brahms. A hint that maybe the other nannies they hired had their hands full and then some. The list of to do items, left behind, directs Greta to play music, make sure the boy is fed, dress him for bed with a goodnight kiss, read aloud to him, and do all the things you would normally do if he were a living boy.
But he's a porcelain doll so of course Greta gives up the listed duties a short time after the Heelshires have left. That's when strange things begin to happen. As Stacy Menear (writer) and William Brent Bell (director) mix in the hoary horror elements amid the splendidly brooding images of the mansion's animal carvings, hallway windings, and cloistered presence in the forest, away from neighbors and town life. Greta begins to suspect that the porcelain Brahms is alive.
As her suspicion grows, her seclusion and avoidance of Malcolm's interest in her grows, too. She becomes more protective, more mothering, and starts adhering to that list of duties with unwavering determination. But then her reason for leaving the States catches up with her, forcing Brahms and his mysterious story into a new direction.
While Menear's story resorts to too many overly seen tricks of the horror trade, without twisting them in non-traditional or quirky new ways, she does provide a kick in your seat moment as Brahms and Greta's pasts knock into each other. You will either like it or hate it, but it provides a direction that's not expected. For fans of, and those not familiar with, Lauren Cohan, she's very good at making the story work beyond the simple premise of "our son, the life-sized porcelain doll" and keeps to the fine line between histrionics, vulnerability, and assuredness.
Not so welcomed is the sequelantic ending tacked on beyond the perfectly good one. It's the kind that screams "not dead yet!" while ruining the natural denouement. I will say that there's a lot of backstory here that's left to imagination or future sequels, but I would have preferred a less blatantly commercial ending here. The story's mysteries are sufficient enough to spark a revisit, should the movie's box office mojo allow.