Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans
Rated PG-13 for Violence and Terror, and for Some Thematic Material
Like "The Forest," another January horror movie that, for being a January horror movie, was better than it had a right to be, "The Boy" is what it is. No more, no less. It's by no means a classic, but if all you're looking for is a few cheap shocks and chills, it will fit the bill.
Greta (Cohan) has just been hired as a nanny for a young boy in England. They live in a creepy manor in the middle of nowhere but that suits Greta just fine. So it is to her surprise that her charge is not a boy at all, but a porcelain doll. At first, she thinks this is a joke, but the boy's parents are quite serious, and have a strict set of rules that she must follow. Naturally, since they're not there and the "boy" is an inanimate object, she doesn't follow them. But creepy things start happening, and Greta begins to wonder if this doll is actually alive.
Is this movie formulaic? Yes. Is it derivative and cobbled together from dozens of other horror movies? You bet. Is it effective? Surprisingly yes. I was intrigued by the story and its characters. It also contains a few cheap shocks and scares. You realize that there are more than a few holes and it often includes traditional ghost story tropes without considering whether or not they fit. Fortunately, it's little more than a minor irritant.
It certainly helps that the acting is good. Lauren Cohan, best known for playing Maggie Greene on "The Walking Dead," is quite good as the girl with a bad past. On paper, there's nothing special about her, but Cohan is immensely appealing and brings more talent to the role than it deserves. Rupert Evans is adorable as Malcolm, the hunky delivery boy. The two also have good chemistry with each other. It's not a burning romance (this is, after all, a horror movie), but it's enough to give the film an extra edge.
The pacing can be at times sluggish. A few minutes here and there could have been snipped off without losing anything important, and a horror movie must have momentum. Still, like the horror movie tropes that appear to have been thrown in at the last minute, it's a relatively minor irritant.
A word or two must be said about the PG-13 rating. It's not that it deserves an R rating (it doesn't), it's that the attempts to get it make it feel dishonest. For example, there's a scene where Greta takes a shower. It's meant to be titillating, but since the MPAA is so skittish about boobs unless you're James Cameron, director William Brent Bell is forced to concentrate on Cohan's thighs, calves, and face. It looks goofy rather than sexy. And the lack of blood, gore and brutality in the ending (which is a slasher movie) makes it feel weak. I'm guessing that there's going to be an unrated version of the film. Even with the obviously cut stuff put back in, it's not going to make the film much better.
Still, if you're looking for a few cheap thrills, you could do a lot worse.