A taxi takes Greta (The Walking Dead‘s Lauren Cohan), a young American woman in search of a new start, through the woods to a large mansion in the English countryside. Quickly establishing that she’s here on a trial for a babysitting job, she’s greeted by the hospitable, if slightly stone-faced parents (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel‘s Diana Hardcastle and Father Ted‘s Jim Norton). Soon after, she’s introduced to their young son Brahms, but this is no ordinary babysitting gig: he’s a wooden doll that Mr and Mrs Heelshire treat like a regular human boy. Greta struggles to stifle a giggle in the face of the family’s unrelenting seriousness, and that’s a pretty effective metaphor for how you might find yourself reacting to The Boy. Making the bold but poorly advised decision to play its inherently silly premise entirely earnestly, attempting a straight-faced horror movie feels grimly over-ambitious here, and the result is a film that ultimately achieves little other than overpowering tedium.
With Mr and Mrs Heelshire disappearing from the fray early on in the film, the main source of interaction between characters come from Greta’s clangingly inauthentic, exposition-heavy conversations on the phone with her friend from home, and occasional visits from “grocery boy” Malcolm (Rupert Evans). Last seen giving a brave performance in Ivan Kavanagh’s superb The Canal, Evans aims for similar commitment here, but it’s difficult to tell where shaky writing ends and shaky performances begin: an identifiable lack of onscreen chemistry between himself and Cohan draws attention to the blandness of the dialogue, and it’s difficult to come down too harshly on performers pitted against material this mediocre. There’s an easy joke to make about Brahms not delivering the most wooden performance here, but sadly, it doesn’t really apply – at least not until Greta’s abusive ex-boyfriend Cole (Ben Robson) shambles onto the scene in the film’s preposterous final third.
There’s a twist in the tale in The Boy, and it might be a pretty serviceable one in context. The real difficulty from an audience’s perspective is staying engaged with the story long enough for it to elicit any reaction other than indifference. Loaded with bland, poorly-sketched characters, baffingly superfluous dream sequences and ineffective jump-scares, this is lowest-common-denominator multiplex horror at its most grievous. By the fourth or fifth maddeningly inconsequential and profoundly unscary oh-my-god-where-did-the-puppet-go moment, it’s difficult to feel anything other than a flourishing, irritating notion that you’re having your time wasted. Avoid.