A nanny, working for a family whose son has just passed away, finds herself put in charge of caring for a lifelike doll that the couple treat as a real child.
In the pantheon of creepy dolls – from Talky Tina in “The Twilight Zone” to Chucky in the “Child’s Play” movies to Annabelle in “The Conjuring” – it’s often the idea of the inanimate object coming to life and wreaking bloody havoc that’s more frightening than the actual execution. It’s a tricky thing to pull off: drawing shivers from turning a childhood plaything into something truly menacing vs. eliciting giggles at the sheer silliness of the proposition.
Such is the unfortunate – and unintentionally hilarious – case of “The Boy,” whose moody atmosphere and committed performances can’t conceal the fact that this is one dumb flick. (It’s also a flick that wasn’t shown to critics before opening day; the studio actually pulled its scheduled Thursday-night sneaks of the film, in case you were wondering whether to be optimistic.)
Lauren Cohan of “The Walking Dead” does her best, though, to take her role seriously through all its implausible twists and turns. She stars as Greta, a pretty, young American who travels to a remote English village to take a job as a nanny for an 8-year-old boy. Seems she’s got a troubled romantic past and needs to get as far away from home as possible; what she finds, though, is that she’s far away from everything else, too. When she pulls up in a chauffeured car to the Heelshires’ stately, intimidating manor, she remarks in awe: “It’s like something out of a storybook, isn’t it?” Actually, it’s like something out of every Gothic horror movie you’ve ever seen, complete with wild, misty grounds, dark stairways, hidden passages and things that go bump in the night.
When Greta meets the rigid, conservatively dressed Heelshires (veterans Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle), who look more like the grandparents of an 8-year-old boy than the parents, she receives a strict list of rules and a routine to which she must adhere. She also meets the boy himself – who isn’t a boy at all but rather a china doll with a prim wardrobe of tiny suits and cardigans and a glassy stare. But the Heelshires, who’ve named him Brahms, treat him like a living, breathing child. They talk to him. They feed him. They carry him up and down stairs, play classical records for him and tuck him into bed at night.