Best Seen by Mistake
1 & ½ popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
There is only one reason or excuse to see director William Brent Bell’s mediocre horror film, “The Boy.” Luckily, such circumstances and the manner in which your humble auditor viewed the movie in question serendipitously ameliorated what would have otherwise proved a night at the Bijou, ruined. To follow my prescription, first you and a good friend must be closed out of the movie you originally intended to see due to a projector snafu. Then, with the clock ticking and après-theater dinner plans hinging, you pick a film, any film, with start and end times that fit.
Call it the “Sometimes you Get Shot out of a Cannon Method of Movie Selection.” While not my favorite manner for picking a film to review, one can’t help but ascribe a little fatalistic superstition to the process…especially when connected to the inherent heebie-jeebies aura which attends even the feeblest horror flick. In other words (imagine a door, suddenly, unexplainably being slammed shut), there’s a reason you’ve been placed in a theater where this motion picture is playing. Ha, you thought it was your choice, silly mortal. Well, might as well get in the mood.
Of course the accompanying old pal with whom you will exchange acerbic quips relating to the stale clichés and half-baked plot mechanisms of this genre when it is done poorly is compulsory. Otherwise, blurting out your comments to no one in particular will make other audience members nervous whilst wondering who let you loose. It will also doubtlessly lead to ejection. Nope, you need that longtime friend. But sit away from the crowd and modulate your repartee beyond disturbing earshot. Loud cackles are OK, and so is nervous laughter.
The suggested procedure is essentially a nostalgic regression to earlier, matinee days in the dark of the movie house, when watching the spine-tingling perpetrations on the silver screen was a rite of passage. If the mayhem got too blood-curdling, you might take to the floor for sanctuary among the lost Jujyfruits and Goobers. Naturally, the adult version is a bit more sophisticated, the anxious banter substituting for the safe haven beneath seats you couldn’t fit under now even if you so chose.
Fortunately for me, but regrettably for those who for some reason like a good scare, there are few truly startling occurrences. Rather, there is a steady parade of false alarms, foreshadowing, some pretty spooky atmosphere and a lazy Susan full of boilerplate notions. While fairly well acted by just a handful of principals, the absence of countless, fresh-faced teens for slicing and dicing, uh, resultantly cuts down on the potential bloodletting and attrition.
Employing horror film scenario #2033 (young nanny employed by mysterious older couple in country estate), sub-phylum B (evil doll), horror-meister Bell first introduces us to pretty Greta Evans, on the lam from a bad affaire de coeur back in Montana. She figures this babysitting gig in the English countryside will place her far enough away from the threats and bullying control of Ben Robson’s Cole, the poster boy for abusive personality disorder. But naturally, like every horror movie nanny before her, Greta has no idea what other terrors await in her new position.
The Heelshires, who look about as old as their money, are a creepy pair to be sure. Their weirdness is solidly confirmed when they introduce Greta, played by Lauren Cohan, to her new charge…their son Brahms. She’s about to laugh and then, tempered by their apparent seriousness and stern demeanor, can only think, ‘oh my goodness…they’re crazy, and here I am in England.’ You see, the perfectly dressed Brahms is a porcelain doll, and they’re not kidding. To further affirm the lunacy, they give her a list of ten rules for junior’s care. Psst…he gets a goodnight kiss.
It’s the good old ‘is it alive or not?’ ploy, a theme that probably originated even before Abraham smashed the gods in his Dad’s idol shop, perhaps for creeping him out. However, screenwriter Stacey Menear’s slight variation on the theme isn’t half bad and, had it been placed in more creative hands, might have propelled the film to a greater fright quotient.
As it stands, you wait and wait for something to happen, all the time bracing yourself just in case it does. But Mr. Bell directs his scare tactic like a 4th of July fireworks show, saving all he has for the climax. It’s too little too late. Instead of being frightened out of your wits, you are giddily exhausted. But, looking forward to the dinner engagement you’ve preserved, you and the mandatory friend laugh how you’ve turned bad luck into humorous misadventure, and at least escaped “The Boy” before its seeming endlessness would warrant retitling it “The Old Man.”
“The Boy,” rated PG-13, is an STX Entertainment release directed by William Brent Bell and stars Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans and Diana Hardcastle. Running time: 97 minutes
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