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Final twist can't save half-hearted 'The Boy'
Lauren Cohan, left, Diana Hardcastle and Jim Norton in "The Boy." - photo by Josh Terry
"THE BOY" 1 star Lauren Cohan, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, Rupert Evans, James Russell, Ben Robson; PG-13 (violence and terror, and for some thematic material); in general release

A horror film has one job: its supposed to scare you. The Boy isnt scary, and director William Brent Bell doesnt do near enough elsewhere to make up for it.

Lauren Cohan plays Greta Evans, an American woman who travels to England to take a job as a nanny. A wealthy elderly couple named the Heelshires are going on holiday for several months, and need someone to watch their young boy, Brahms.

The Heelshires home is vast and gothic, keeping with horror movie tradition, and Greta notices what appears to be fire damage near the roof. But what she finds inside is much more concerning: Brahms is a life-sized porcelain doll.

As Greta watches the Heelshires address Brahms as if he were a living, breathing, human being, she arrives at the first of several moments in The Boy when common sense would dictate she leave immediately. Its a common horror trope that the protagonist must continue to make bad decisions in order to keep the plot going, but The Boy requires Greta to constantly stretch the bounds of believability.

Before they leave, the Heeshires introduce Greta to the local delivery grocer, Malcolm (Rupert Evans), and leave her with a list of rules concerning Brahms. Greta is not allowed to entertain guests, she cant leave Brahms alone, etc. Some of the rules seem especially odd, such as the elaborate instructions for food disposal and the requirement to play Brahms favorite records at abnormally high volumes. But a private conversation with Mr. Heeshire (Jim Norton) evokes just enough self-awareness to keep Greta from heading for the door.

Then they go, Greta promptly begins ignoring all the rules, and the requisite scary movie strangeness begins. Spooky noises, haunting dreams, disappearing items and a creepy doll that always seems to be watching Gretas every move.

The setup is quirky enough that with the right execution, The Boy could have been a campy candidate for a cult classic. Instead, it opts for genuine frights, but even the routine jump scares fall flat as the first two acts of the film pass almost entirely without surprise or interest.

We learn that Greta has come to England to get away from her ex, Cole (Ben Robson), who was stalking her back home. And when Malcolm explains that the Heelshires lost their real son years earlier, Greta finds a way to empathize enough to stick with her bizarre job in spite of various red flags she encounters along the way.

Audiences will probably be drawn to The Boy thanks to Cohan, who has become a popular character on AMCs The Walking Dead. But Greta is a pretty far cry from the gun-toting Maggie Greene, and bears a closer resemblance to the vulnerable farm girl Cohan portrayed earlier in the series, before the zombie apocalypse tuned up her survival skills.

Beyond that, there just isnt enough to recommend a film like The Boy. There is a moment near the end of the film that suggests things are about to get crazy, and deliver a payoff for all of the previous monotony. Sadly, the final twist is able to amp up the action, but unable to salvage the final product.

"The Boy" is rated PG-13 for violence and terror, and for some thematic material; running time: 97 minutes.
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