It's all too often that a director starts off with a bang, only for his work to inexorably deteriorate over the decades--this seems to be especially true for horror movies. So it's rather refreshing to see a director's work steadily improve... especially after getting off to a truly terrible start.
I've reviewed exactly two previous William Brent Bell efforts here. And in 2006, STAY ALIVE was handed my "worst of the year" dishonor (remember the one about the Elizabeth Bathory video game set in the American South)?
Bell managed to make it to my annual "middle ground" with THE DEVIL INSIDE in 2012. Yeah, it was a "found footage" possession movie that just stopped without ending, and it was less than satisfying as a result, but there WERE some good individual shock scenes and performances, and since I'd seen much worse that year, I didn't drop it into the basement.
I didn't see WER in 2013, but now I want to.
So now we get THE BOY. And I trust you're familiar with the premise thanks to plenty of trailers. Lauren Cohan (today, one of the few good reasons to continue to pay attention to THE WALKING DEAD) is Greta, a young American who makes the jump across the pond to accept a ridiculously luxuriant paycheck for the job of babysitting the son of an elderly couple on their way to a long-overdue holiday. Hmm... something's already fishy, considering the ages of the parents. And yes, little "Brahms" exists in the form of a porcelain doll that Greta is expected to care for as very real and very much alive.
The paycheck wins out (as does Greta's distance from home), but Greta thinks (and not unreasonably) that there's no reason she should actually follow the very strict checklist of rules and duties as regards Brahms once Mum and Dad are no longer there to supervise her. And, of course, she thinks incorrectly. Rupert Evans is on hand as Malcolm, who delivers the family's groceries, knows all about Brahms AND is hoping to cultivate a friendship (and possibly more) with Greta. It's good to have him around as a sounding board (and as someone who actually SEES the evidence that something's up with Brahms... we're thankfully spared the "all gone when someone else looks" cliche in this instance). But Greta's not ready for romance--we find out in the very early going that she's fled an abusive relationship.
That was where I rolled my eyes and said to myself "Guess who's going to show up in the last twenty minutes?" Yep, we're given an extra character who exists to force the plot into a resolution, and I wish they could have found a better way to reach the same conclusion. Meanwhile, Bell pulls off some rich, handsome atmosphere and at least one great jump that certainly worked on me, but then he had to go and try it again in a futile "fool me twice" effort. As for the resolution? Skip to the next paragraph if you wish to avoid potential spoilers and are well-versed in TV-movies of the 1970s. You probably know the one I'm thinking of. And it isn't called "Good Wendy." Enough said.
But those flaws, while they certainly exist, are minor in comparison to the film's strengths--and strength number one is a truly excellent and absorbing performance by Cohan. It should come as no surprise that as the story progresses, Greta finds herself obediently kowtowing to the rule book and providing little Brahms with plenty of attention and TLC. But given what we've learned about her character, we're invited to speculate... is she truly losing her mind? Are her maternal instincts kicking in against her common sense? Or is she merely resigning herself to a lifetime of submission under the threat of bullying? Make no mistake--Greta is no random "Chucky" victim or similar cypher, and Cohan more than succeeds in creating viewer empathy. Add that to the steadily-improving skills of director Bell, and you've got a recommendation.
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