The creepy kid/evil doll genre of horror movie has a long and venerable lineage, perhaps because it’s so easy to project fantasies and insecurities onto Uncanny Valley-straddling plastic figurines. We always want dolls to be more alive than they are, even if that means turning them into Chucky. The Boy, from director William Brent Bell, aims to set itself squarely in the fictional canon of Chucky and its brethren, but it ends up trying to do so much that it forgets to scare us.
The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan stars as Greta Evans, an American woman who takes a nannying job in the English countryside to get far away from a violent ex. She’s surprised to find that the boy she’s supposed to babysit for a few months is actually a life-size doll, but her employers (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) treat the doll boy, Brahms, as a stand-in for their son who died tragically in a fire. Yes, Greta is expected to dress, feed, and entertain a doll. Greta ignores her clients’ rules, after which creepy occurrences start piling up. Greta’s dress and necklace go missing while she takes a shower, and date plans are scuttled after she’s mysteriously locked in the attic all night.
Unfortunately, that’s about the extent of it; few other scary things happen until the very end of the movie. Most of the screentime is dedicated to Greta’s history with her abusive ex-boyfriend (Ben Robson) and her burgeoning romance with a local grocer (Rupert Evans). By the time the mystery behind Brahms is finally revealed, the impact is blunted by the lack of relevant or suspenseful buildup.
The Boy treats its creepy premise as melodrama (one scene unironically recalls The Hours) rather than horror, and ends up feeling like a tonal mismatch. If there’s one thing to learn from the grand tradition of creepy doll movies, it’s that dolls should be played with. Don’t pretend they’re more than they are. C