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Monday, August 22, 2016

Movie Review: "The Boy" (2016)


There are few things in this world worse than being a horror fan with epilepsy and anxiety.

Like seriously. I want to see every creepy, grimdark movie on the planet, but the modern state of horror is so rife with jump-scares that it's often not worth it. It's hard enough going through a haunted house without help; seeing a horror movie is willingly subjecting myself to medical issues every few minutes. And until the day we can convince Markiplier to do, I don't know, Let's Watch videos to cut the terror for me by being a go-between, I figured I was out of luck.

That was my feeling when I saw trailers for The Boy, which hits all my morbid acupuncture points. Creepy possessed doll? Check. Weird country house? Check. Uncanny Valley so deep you can grow mushrooms there? Check check check. I wanted it so bad. But the way the trailer was cut, I was pretty much assured it would hit all the same beats as your typical modern horror flick.

I... was... wrong?

Lately I've fallen deep into the world of online dark media and ARGs -- the whole Slender Man canon and beyond -- thanks to Nick Nocturne and his YouTube channel Night Mind. Besides being a great way for me to catch up to Marble Hornets and EverymanHYBRID, he reviews other ARGs, visual creepypasta, and flicks. And we seem to see eye-to-eye on what makes horror effective. So if he says something in that vein is worth it (or not worth it), I'm inclined to trust him.

I saw that he reviewed The Boy, and assumed it'd be in line with his other videos where he recaps and analyzes the entirety of the piece. A good alternative to giving myself seizures, I figured. But his review was entirely spoiler-free. He didn't even touch on anything past what we know from the trailers, insisting you have to come in fresh. In addition? He said the only true jump-scare is the one we've already seen in the trailer.

So, there went the one thing keeping me from it. I rented it off Amazon Prime immediately and watched it first thing in the morning. You know, just in case I wanted to sleep that night.

Mr. Nocturne was right about everything he said. It's not a masterwork of horror cinema, but dang is it good. And... dang is it not at ALL the movie I thought I was going to watch.

For those who somehow haven't seen the trailers or heard about the movie, here's as much as you get: Greta (Lauren Cohan) has been hired as nanny to an eight-year-old English boy named Brahms. When she gets to the family's country home, she discovers that Brahms is a life-sized doll that the "parents" treat as though he's their real son. He does bear an uncanny resemblance to the couple's real son, who died tragically many years prior. Greta is left with the creepy doll and a daily schedule for him that she must abide by while the parents are gone... which Greta ignores until the doll begins to become displeased.

What can I say without ruining for you guys the reaction I got to have while watching this? I completely understand why the trailer was cut the way it was, because the story the movie goes on to tell goes beyond a horror story about a possessed doll. Greta has a reason for being so far from home, for wanting to be around strangers, and for staying where she is even when she discovers that her babysitting charge is a creepy doll that allegedly "demands" music appreciation lessons and a kiss at bedtime. And the story does a wonderful job of unraveling her character's backstory without just hitting you with an exposition bomb early on. You discover things slowly, as they become relevant.

Also, the actions of the characters actually make sense in the scary situations. Well, most of them. (More on that in a moment.) Having been in a situation vaguely similar to Greta's (though not as extreme), her reactions are legit. Sad, but legit. And ultimately, what she goes through in the house is important character development beyond the scope of the movie.

So what's the deal with Brahms? There's definitely something going on. Brahms is definitely influencing the house. But how and why? No, you need to see that for yourself for sure. The twist in the tale is most effective when it comes out of nowhere.

Sharp-eyed viewers may figure it out early on. There are plenty of clues when you go back and look again, so the whole thing holds together once you get all your information. And, like I said, it's not the movie you think you're watching.

Literally my only issue with the movie was the amount of fanservice. I know, I know. She's complaining about shower scenes and Greta walking around in a towel. How terrible, right? Look, I just... all I'm complaining about is the towel, honest. That thing must have been super-glued to her body because it never budged. Also, I don't care how creepy things are or how immediate your fear is. If you are investigating a noise, put on clothes. From one who has left the shower to investigate noises before. Put. On. Clothes.

Yeah, that's literally it. The fanservice seemed oddly out of place for a movie that was otherwise so solid with its characterisation and lack of gimmicks. But hey.

I may give it a second watch before my 24 hours run out on my rental, because I want to see it for what it is. I imagine it'll be a very different movie indeed with all the information in place.

Now, the twist may be a deal-breaker for some people. I've seen reviews where finding out the truth of the situation actually pissed people off. But I'm among those who was delighted at how well the situation was both set up right in front of our faces and hidden from us. Basically? If you're here because you want a movie that is just a straight-up creepy doll movie... maybe don't see it. If you're ready to have your mind blown, watch.

Now if I could just find more horror movies that rely on psychology and storytelling over loud noises...