Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Boy (2016) - Movie Review

William Trent Bell, just so we’re 100% clear on this point, is one of the biggest hacks in Hollywood right now. Starting out on a pretty sour note with Stay Alive, one of the more laughable video game movies out there, he then made a return a few years with The Devil Inside… wow, even mentioning that film nowadays is painful, let alone the prospect of watching it. Undoubtedly one of the single worst found footage movies ever made, which is no easy feat considering its woeful competition, it was also one of the most bafflingly marketed films in recent memory, encapsulated with an ending that is about as bass-ackwards as you can get for any cinematic production. At the time of writing this review, I have yet to see his third release Wer but, to put it bluntly, I don’t need to to know that this has a very high probability of being godawful. I’d normally say that I welcome the opportunity of being proven wrong… but let’s be real here: That ain’t happening this time around.

The plot: Greta (Lauren Cohen), wanting to escape her demons in the U.S., takes up a job as a nanny for an elderly couple in the UK. However, upon arrival, she discovers that she will be serving as a nanny for a porcelain doll that the couple allege is both alive and their son. While connecting with local delivery man Malcolm (Rupert Evans) and getting used to this bizarre arrangement, it turns out that the doll may not be as harmless as she thought and, if she doesn’t follow the rules, she could be in for a lot of trouble.

The cast is okay but it’s not as if anyone here is on their A-game. Cohan is incredibly bland, channelling a performance that I’ve unfortunately come to expect from low-grade horror fare: Placid to the point of potential psychosis. Evans, once the realisation sets in that, yes, this is the same guy who played Agent Myers in the first Hellboy movie, is actually quite charming, managing to make even his awkward dialogue sound palatable. Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle as the Heelshires do end up adding a bit to the ridiculousness of the main plot, but credit to them as they definitely convey a legitimacy when it comes just how much their characters obey the rules concerning the boy. Ben Robson appears later on as a lightly-grilled red herring, and he’s about as one-note as the scenes preceding him set him up to be.

Wow, this film’s tone is all over the goddamn place. Not only that, wherever “the place” is, it’s certainly nowhere in the vicinity of horror. Right from when Greta first meets Malcolm, that sense of awkward giggling ends up permeating the rest of the film because, quite frankly, it doesn’t even feel like they’re trying to scare us. The main conceit with the doll is treated so straight-faced and normal that it stops feeling like anything psychologically tinged and more just as a complete farce. I’m going to chalk this up to a real lack of effort as this sort of direction into comedy usually comes around when a film fails to properly establish a horror-required atmosphere, instead turning it into something one shade darker than a quirky indie comedy. It’s difficult to find the little doll boy creepy when barely anyone in the film treats it as such, made worse by how easily the most damaging thing the doll apparently does is prevent Greta from going on a date with Malcolm. Um… where’s the suspense in rom-com-level inconveniences?

Of course, when the film actually tries to be scary, it’s through amazingly weak means. Having something scary happen and then the character waking up from it has been old-hat and tired for a really, really long time now, so why in the hell does it appear not once but twice in this bloody thing? Credit where it’s due in that composer Bear McCreary, when he isn’t just flat-out letting orchestra stings create cheap horror for the film, is trying to give a nice eerie texture to the film, but William Trent Bell clearly has no idea what to do with it because everything is just portrayed so blandly. This reaches a point of lunacy when we discover who Brahms really was, told to us with all the grace and emotional finesse of a Gilligan cut. Seriously, it feels more like a punchline than any kind of dramatic revelation. Basically, when it even bothers to try and give chills, it sucks, and when it tries to create drama, it equally sucks. Good God, it’s like the director took everything that is meant to be focused on in a horror film and then directed his attention to literally anything else except for those.

Actually, slight addendum to my statement above: The real point of lunacy here is with the ending. Now, anyone who has suffered the utter idiocy that is the non-ending of The Devil Inside will know William Trent Bell isn’t exactly the sort of person who creates reasonable endings to his stories. Well, while this isn’t quite as bad as that, it is still remarkably stupid and quite possibly one of the most ill-conceived climaxes I’ve seen all year. Now, without getting too heavily into spoilers, I’ll just say that this film initially tries to keep the audience guessing in terms of who or what the doll actually is: Is it possessed or are the people in the house simply going crazy? Admittedly, for the first ten or so minutes at least, it does a decent job at that… and then it just decides that it wants to have it both ways, possibly as an attempt to please everyone regardless of expectations. Well, hate to break it to these hacks, but satisfaction doesn’t work that way. Sure, taking the route that they did could have worked out a lot better in the hands of much more competent filmmakers, but here, it just feels like a tremendous ass-pull from a couple of idiots who wouldn’t dare make up their minds on the plot of their own fucking movie. I’d call it laughable if it weren’t for the fact that it makes none of the sense, which in turn ends up creating more annoyance and anger than it does laughter.

All in all, this is essentially an update of the 1988 horror film Pin, only somehow even goofier. And bear in mind that that film included a scene where a nurse has sex with the titular anatomically-correct dummy. The acting is bare minimum for this kind of story, the direction is tone-deaf to the extreme and the writing, not really knowing what kind of tone this should have, tries to juggle the potential outcomes and ends up failing at both of them. William Trent Bell remains a glaring red flag of a filmmaker, and the fact that this is his first that he didn’t help write shows that the likelihood of him making anything worthwhile has grown even smaller.

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