[Screen It]


(2016) (Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans) (PG-13)

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Horror: A young woman takes a job as a nanny only to discover that the 8-year-old boy is a life-sized doll that may be possessed by a spirit.
Greta Evans (LAUREN COHAN) is a young American woman who's left the States to get away from her abusive boyfriend, Cole (BEN ROBSON), who's paid no heed to her restraining order on him. To make ends meet, she's taken a job as a nanny in the U.K. working for an older British couple, Mr. Heelshire (JIM NORTON) and Mrs. Heelshire (DIANA HARDCASTLE), at their remote mansion estate. She's to care for their 8-year-old son, Brahms, but is taken aback when she learns that the "child" is actually a life-size porcelain doll. That initially seems like a joke or prank to her, but she quickly learns that the Heelshires treat the doll as their real son, and follow a strict set of daily rules that they pass on to her.

With nowhere else to go, she decides she can do this, especially with the husband and wife heading off for vacation. Once they're gone, she throws a shawl over the doll and thinks no more about it. That is, until she finds the shawl on the floor and the doll looking at her with a frozen stare. Greta initially doesn't think much of that or other odd events, but does get some insight from a local grocer, Malcolm (RUPERT EVANS), who's been delivering groceries to the estate for years.

It turns out the real Brahms died in a fire twenty years ago on his eighth birthday, followed shortly thereafter by the arrival of the doll that they've then treated as a real boy ever since. That seems to make sad sense to Greta, but when things start progressively getting creepier and creepier -- including the doll suddenly being in a different location than moments before, not to mention spooky phone calls where a child's voice talks to her -- she begins to wonder if the dead boy's spirit is in the house or even the doll itself.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Our reviewing policy for films that aren't shown in advance to critics is that we'll only provide a few paragraphs about the film's artistic merits or, more accurately, lack thereof. After all, life is too short to spend any more effort than that on a movie that even the releasing studio knows isn't any good (which is why they hid it from reviewers before its release).

I fully understand some filmmakers' preoccupation with making horror films about dolls. Some of them are downright creepy (the dolls, although I suppose some of those writers and directors could also be described that way). Heck, even Robert Shaw's character brings up those toys in "Jaws" when he says, "You know the thing about a shark. He's got lifeless eyes... black eyes...like a doll's eye." And if the seasoned Quint thinks that, you know he means business, both about sharks and dolls.

Alas, neither he nor any sharks appear in "The Boy," yet another spooky flick wannabe that features a lifeless toy as its main scare feature. While that's worked in a few other pics -- most notably the brief but incredibly effective clown doll attack in the original "Poltergeist" -- it simply doesn't here.

And that's not only due to the doll not particularly looking scary (he's no Jon Gruden, uh, Chucky), but also because writer Stacey Menear and director William Brent Bell can't manage to do much beyond throwing in the usual array of gotcha moments, many of which are just nightmares, and scene after scene of our heroine (Lauren Cohan) slowly walking around the typical, dimly lit gothic mansion after hearing something.

Two "surprise" twists in the third act do the film no favors and rob what little is left of any sort of supernatural suspense the story still had going for it. But by then, you've long given up pondering why the protagonist didn't take flight right away after meeting the doll's "parents" who are far creepier than ol' shark eyes. Heed my advice. If you want to get spooked by a doll, find an old one in some antique store and stare at it for a while. That will be far spookier and more effective than "The Boy." The film rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 22, 2016 / Posted January 22, 2016

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