Splatterfest is poorly named. Despite the wide variety of choices my sister and I select every year, my friends–oh yes, friends, I’m throwing you under the bus!–always select the least gory contender to watch and mock. Which doesn’t mean there’s any less mockery, oh no. Joyful mockery continues to abound. Also, candy. (Like, so much candy, you guys. It’s absurd how much candy we have here.) Just one of these days, there will actually be blood spatter again. It’s been a long time since the hilarious, gooey days of Wrong Turn and House of Wax, after all.
This year, we ended up watching The Boy.
Calling it scary would be a stretch. Movies that are this easy to mock have a hard time being truly frightening. But to be fair, parts of it are kinda disturbing. It is, at any rate, more entertaining overall than the group’s last bad horror movie, The Beast Must Die–although, regrettably, there are no Werewolf Breaks in The Boy, which clearly every movie should have.
American nanny Greta (Lauren Cohan) takes a job in England, only to discover that the young boy she’ll be watching, Brahms, is actually a doll that this old couple treats like a living child. (Specifically, like their actual child, who died 20 years ago.) Rather than go running for the hills like any sensible person, Greta takes the job . . . but odd things start happening when she doesn’t follow Brahms’s Rules.
1. Let’s go ahead and just begin with the obvious: Oh my God, don’t take a job being a nanny for a creepy doll, what’s wrong with you?
For reasons we’ll get into later, Greta is desperate, and I get it: good work–hell, any work–can be hard to come by, but, like, when you find yourself staying alone in an isolated, wifi-less, creepy old mansion with windows that have been painted shut and in a country you’ve never been to where you know absolutely nobody, getting paid to take care of a doll and pretend it’s a boy with very particular wants and needs . . . you know, it’s time to reevaluate your life’s choices and go find a job doing anything else.
2. That being said, if you decide that you are, in fact, going to take the creepy ass job? For the love of God, follow the rules!
Let’s pretend this isn’t a horror movie. Say this is an actual job you got, and there’s no chance of ghosts or killer dolls or anything like that. Greta wastes absolutely no time breaking her promise to treat Brahms like “her own,” throwing him around and otherwise being a jerk to him–but this is an incredibly stupid thing to do if she needs a job badly enough to take even this spooky ass one. Because you’ve got to figure that even if the parents aren’t there, we do live in the age of nanny-cams. How do you know they’re not watching you? Does it really seem like the most unlikely thing in this scenario?
It’s also entirely possible that Malcolm (Rupert Evans), the British grocery lad/family friend with the sexy accent, is actually spying on your behavior and reporting on you to the parents, in which case, dude, you are so about to get fired. Sure, you’re gonna feel weird reading stories out loud to a doll, but if no one else is around for the most part, who’s gonna judge you for looking silly? Besides, like, work ethic. Don’t take money and then not do the job; that’s bullshit.
3. Since I brought up Malcolm, though, let me tell you: he’s worthless.
Oh, sure, he’s got a decent enough face and a nice voice and all that, but he is a crap love interest and let me tell you why: his idea of flirting includes meeting a girl and telling her fortune through her chewing gum. No, seriously. He tells her he has a “touch of the gift,” but while his grandmother read tea leaves, he reads chewing gum. Of course, he’s obviously making it up on the spot as a joke, but then he actually follows through, asking her to take out her gum so he can touch it and divine a few cliched backstories for her. (One of these backstories accidentally touches a nerve, which is how we know our heroine has a dark past and is running from someone; it’s clunky as shit exposition, mostly because it’s just so ridiculous.)
There are other reasons, of course, that I don’t like Malcolm, reasons that I’ll detail in the Spoiler Section, but I’m not even sure they’re necessary. Because–and maybe I’m alone in this–while I don’t have much interest in being wooed in general, I know damn well that fondling my used gum in your palms isn’t quite gonna cut it, like, that won’t make me think you’re hysterical, sexy, or hysterically sexy. Anyone who wants me to take anything out of my mouth so they can play with it is going to get some serious side eye from me.
4. Like I said in the intro, I wouldn’t necessarily call The Boy scary, and not just because my friends and I were set to mock it from the beginning. It’s more of an atmospheric horror film than anything else, but it’s just not consistently eerie enough. There are some creepy moments and implications, particularly towards the end, but too often it’s just a little too hard to take seriously; after all, almost every problem Greta has in this movie would be solved if she’d simply leave the house, which doesn’t appear to be as hard for her as it is for other heroines in horror movie scenarios.
5. Finally, if you read the rules in Note 2, you may have noticed the one about playing music loudly. This includes (to my despair, if not surprise) Brahms’s Lullaby. Because of course it is does.
Brahms, you’re an asshole doll. No one likes you.
I’m afraid everything else I want to talk about will include spoilers. If this doesn’t bother you (or you’ve already seen the movie), by all means, carry on.
Let’s go back to the beginning, shall we?
So, Greta arrives at this big English mansion, which is the kind of place that would be amazing to live with your friends but creepy as all fuck to live on your own. She takes off her shoes inside the door, which is polite, I guess, but also absolutely not the kind of thing I would have ever thought to do in my new employer’s home when I hadn’t met said employer or seen a sign stating a specific shoe rule. Feel free to debate in the comments on appropriate footwear in the home/workplace; the point is, Greta’s shoes immediately go missing.
Despite the fact that she’s supposed to wait in the parlor until her employers come to meet her, Greta goes upstairs to investigate a spooky noise. This is unacceptable, and not just for horror movie reasons, either. Unless it sounds like someone is in distress and in desperate need for your assistance (which it didn’t), you wait in the parlor like you were fucking told. Honestly.
Brahms’s Mother (Diana Hardcastle) is not impressed with Greta being upstairs or her shoeless feet, but unluckily for Greta, Brahms apparently likes her, unlike all the other nannies he’s rejected before; in fact, Brahms’s Mother says the other nannies weren’t “as young, or as pretty,” to which I’m like “UM” because that is a super creepy response on, like, so many levels. (That line actually makes more sense by the end, although it’s important to note that it does not negate its creepy factor at all.)
We later find out that Greta is desperate for this position and lodging because she’s escaping her abusive ex-boyfriend, Cole (Ben Robson), who beat her so badly back in the States that she miscarried their child. It’s a terrible situation, and does shed some light on why she’d not only be so eager for a job and a home so far away, but why she’d be inclined to stay once she (eventually) comes to believe that Brahms is a ghost. She takes on a sort of mothering role because of the baby she lost, but of course we later learn that Brahms is actually far more similar to Cole: temperamental and dangerous, with a punish/reward system for good and bad behavior. Also, an adult and alive, but we’ll get to that.
Lauren Cohan does a pretty decent job with only so-so material. Her reaction (slightly hysterical laughter) to the return of her shoes and the PB&J left outside her door is actually quite perfect; it felt like something a real person would do.
Still, with all that said, it kind of bothers me that Greta pretty much goes straight from “Creepy Things Are Happening In The House But I Must Ignore Them Because I Need This Job” to “This House Is Haunted And It’s My Duty To Take Care of This Poor Ghostly Child.” I think maybe she needs at least one scene where she tries to leave but can’t, or thinks she can’t anyway–because it bothers me that she never really seems to get to the point where she’s like nope, I’m out, I’m done. I feel like there’s a missing step in there in how she reacts to the things that are going on around her.
So, creepy doll shenanigans happen. I’m not going to cover all of them, only one particular event: The Shower/The Attic/The Missed Date scene, mostly to further discuss why Malcolm is a loser, and also, Greta’s Improbable Detective Clothes.
Greta agrees to go out on a date with the Supposedly Charming Gum Psychic. She has her Herbal Essences moment in the shower, and then goes to get dressed, only to find that her favorite coral dress has disappeared from the bathroom. She ties an Everlasting Towel around her body so that it cups just perfectly over her breasts and never once slips or unravels, like, for hours. (I have yet to meet a woman who could so perfectly tie a towel that it would hold up overnight. If you are such a woman, for the love of God, share with me your magic in the comments section. I beg of you.)
Properly dressed in her Everlasting Towel, Greta then goes to investigate the spooky attic, which is now open despite being closed before. I feel that reasonable people would at least have put on some clothes before investigating, or else called the cops/left the house–because while the attic ladder might have fallen on its own, the dress certainly did not run away by itself, like, someone or something is obviously in the house with her. But never mind that; Greta is properly attired and on the case, dammit.
(If you think I’m harping too much on the towel thing, well, sorry, but it’s just dumb. To an extent, the movie subverted normal horror movie expectations before on the matter of clothing; for instance, the scene where Greta is wandering around in her sexy nightie for no apparent reason is revealed, thank God, to be a dream, and she’s actually sleeping in long sleeves, as you might when you’re basically living in a castle and you’re not allowed to use the fireplace. But then she’s wandering around investigating a possible intruder in only her towel, and I just don’t buy it. Also, it’s worth mentioning that while this is a PG-13 movie, The Boy doesn’t miss very many opportunities to show Lauren Cohan running around in her underwear whenever possible, like, there may be no tits, but it’s gratuitous thigh and panty shots galore around here.)
Moving on. Greta climbs into the attic and almost immediately gets trapped there. Malcolm, meanwhile, has shown up for their date.
He knocks (or rings the doorbell, I can’t remember which), but of course she doesn’t answer, and while she can see him through the tiny attic window, he can’t hear her at all. Eventually, he leaves, which sounds reasonable, right?
No. It is not reasonable. Malcolm is an asshole, and here’s why:
A. Malcolm has a key to this house because he delivers groceries. Malcolm is not shy about using this key prior to this scene or after this scene; only now, at this exact moment, does he refuse to come inside for no apparent reason other than, of course, Plot Reasons.
B. Malcolm waits approximately 30 seconds before he decides Greta’s not coming and takes off. 30 seconds, Jesus. Forget the fact that she’s in a mansion and it probably takes more than 30 seconds just to get to the front door from anywhere. What if she’s just in the bathroom? Give a girl a break, Malcolm. We have bodily functions too; sometimes, you have to wait for more than 30 seconds to get what you want, you gum-caressing weirdo.
After Malcolm leaves, Greta knocks herself unconscious trying to escape. She’s doesn’t wake up until morning, which probably means she has brain damage or at the very least a serious concussion, but whatever: that’s typical Hollywood head injuries. When she does wake the next day, the attic door is open again, and Malcolm, who I guess has come around in the meantime, chides Greta by asking “what kind of girl goes up into someone’s attic?” Because if it’s not fully apparent yet, Malcolm is a complete tool.
There are more doll shenanigans. Greta quickly comes to believe that the doll is inhabited by Brahms’s ghost, and Malcolm eventually does, too, although he’s less than excited by the prospect, partially because Brahms’s temper tantrums get in the way of his sexy times, but also because Child Brahms may or may not have been a murderer. (Spoilers: he was, probably–the movie kind of forgets to do anything with the backstory they set up.) Greta, however, doesn’t believe Brahms will hurt her. (Spoilers: he will–and seriously, there’s an idea here about how Greta has been trapped by another emotionally, and eventually physically, abusive man . . . but the writing just isn’t quite tight enough for my liking.)
It turns out that Brahms never died in the mystery fire of twenty years ago. (He did get a bit burnt up, though.) For a long time, I actually thought this might be the case, except that I thought that Suck Monkey Love Interest Malcolm was probably Grown-Up Brahms. (Or possibly Brahms’s previously undisclosed and evil twin brother, Bach.) I thought this for three reasons: one, the movie makes a point of saying that Brahms would be about Malcolm’s age, two, only Malcolm is allowed to deliver groceries (Rule 8 on The List), and three, Malcolm apparently used to sleepwalk as a kid–which on its own means nothing, but in a horror film just sounds significant. It turns out, though, that Malcolm isn’t involved at all, and Brahms has actually just been living in the walls all this time. Which gets even creepier when you realize that not only has a grown man been spying on Greta and stealing her clothes and whatnot, his parents basically hired her with just this intent.
Mom and Dad have since killed themselves in a very Virginia Woolf sort of way (which the movie manages to make look tragically romantic but dudes, no, drowning is an awful way to go). Before they left, Mom whispered “I’m so sorry” to Greta. Now at the time, I figured this meant that the doll/ghost’s caretakers literally couldn’t leave until they managed to find a new one or something . . . but this is actually much worse than that: Mom and Dad got a pretty young woman for their son and then wrote their son this letter:
I think we all know what that’s a euphemism for, right? Ugh. It’s so icky.
So, this is basically what happens: Greta’s supposedly American ex (yeah, you fool no one with that accent, Mr. Robson) finds her because some dickweasel back in the US gives him Greta’s address. The dickweasel deserves a grisly death; alas, we will not get the chance to see it. We do get to see Not-American Cole’s death, although disappointingly, it’s not all that graphic. Also, in the Continuing Adventures of Worthless Malcolm, we see Greta play along with Cole in order to keep herself safe; Malcolm, meanwhile, finds out that Cole wants to force Greta to come back home with him, and decides that the best course of action is to nap in his car outside instead of doing anything remotely useful like, oh, I don’t know, going to the cops.
Brahms warns Cole to GTFO of his house. Cole, in retaliation, breaks the Brahms doll. Grown Up and Very Much Alive Brahms reveals himself, kills Cole, and eventually knocks out Useless Malcolm. Greta has to give Brahms a serious Mom Voice, tuck him into bed, and give him a good night kiss, which is easily one of the most disturbing things in the whole movie.
Thankfully, she also stabs him afterwards. In the ensuing struggle, Greta almost dies, but seems to kill Brahms before escaping with Malcolm. (Yes, tragically, Malcolm lives.) Of course, as with far too many bad horror films, it’s revealed that Brahms is still alive at the end because oooh, spooky, and also setting up for a sequel. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be bothering to watch it.
We made fun of this movie, and a lot of the time it deserved it, but to be fair to The Boy, there are some creepy moments here, partially because dolls are almost always creepy, but also because of the implications of the son being alive and the parents being complicit in his actions, particularly when taking Greta’s history of being a domestic abuse survivor into account. It’s not an entirely thoughtless movie–the ideas are there–and the foreshadow actually isn’t terrible.
Unfortunately, the writing isn’t really strong enough to tie the ideas together; coupled with a slow pace, an irritating love interest, stupid clothing choices, a wildly underdeveloped villain backstory, and some shaky character decisions . . . yeah, it’s just not anywhere as good as it could have been.
Some jobs really aren’t worth taking.