“Boo,” went the nanny. “Groan,” went the crowd.
My feet echoed off the smooth, marble-tiled surface as I desperately wound my way up the endless army of stairs. The intense, purposeful footsteps of two others could be distinctly heard behind me. I dodged my way past a couple of cooing lovebirds halfway up the aisle, and didn’t turn a second nostril towards the inviting and eerily familiar smells coming from my immediate right. The door opened with a creak just as I entered. It was pitch black inside. I stumbled over a stray something on the floor and immediately felt my insides clench as the footsteps behind me grew closer and closer. Before me, a catacomb of chairs cast humungous shadows on the perennial, velvety walls. I gingerly lowered myself on one of them and proceeded to wipe a sweaty brow.
A thunderous jolt shook me out of my skin. And the national anthem began.
It’s been a while since I’ve exposed myself to horror movies and other flicks of similar genre. Watching adventures that play with your mind (as you must’ve gathered from my review of Wazir) has always been quite an enjoyable ride for me, and I daresay it’s more than made up for the tsunami of mindless entertainers I had to subject my bleating mind to in the past one year (Salman was on an out-and-out high).
And hence, albeit on shorter-than-Tiger-Shroff’s-hair notice, I leaned back on the chair and watched the credits for the latest horror flick roll by. The Boy. Intriguing name, intriguing poster. It was from painful experience though (basically Dhoom 3) that I’d learnt not to place my delicate expectations on innocent pieces of cardboard resting against the wall. I therefore tried to empty all of my previous opinions and judgements on horror movies and hoped, as I always do hope, for this latest thriller to set new clichés and carve out a niche for itself against the chaotic backdrop of world cinema. Let the originality unfold.
Rich car drives up to enormous mansion. Sigh.
Woman protagonist who for no reason looks determined as hell, as if already poised to kick some ghost ass. Sigh.
Woman meets mistress and master, both of them dressed in prim formals. Both of them old. SIGH.
Woman has applied for Nanny and has small, pleasant talk with the pretty, pretty grocery boy who’s quickly gonna move from mouth to lip but shush that’s a surprise. Vishnu, save me.
A thousand times do I pray for the tables to turn, for the stinging clichés to disappear, for a six-foot spider to pop out of the screen in a kilt and a poncho and tap-dance to a Lady Gaga number (no relation).
But no; not so merciful is God, or his presence shall be abused. And thus, I surrender myself and my unfortunate friends to this merciless onslaught of beaten-to-pulp plot nooks and devices that swiftly aid in strengthening my aforementioned belief about expectations and cardboard posters. Everything is going painfully as I anticipate; the so-old-she’s-fascinating lady’s escorting our nanny to the boy she will be paid to look after. I’m just getting ready to pull the plug on my brain when the director throws in his first plethora of creepiness. We see the old owner of the mansion bent over his “son”, explaining to him very earnestly how he should sit straight and behave like a gentleman in front of the new Nanny. And the boy? He is indeed a perfect gentleman. Not a drop of malice can be discerned within the depths of his glass eyes. Read that again. Not glassy eyes. I literally mean eyes made up out of glass. As do I mean it literally when I say he sits like a statue or that his face is without expression, or that his skin is so pale it’s plastic. News flash- he isn’t real.
Or maybe I’m being too harsh on the poor parents who actually look older than the parents of someone who needs a nanny by decades. Their child is real; to be precise, he was. And the Brahms they’re talking to right now (for, as we learn in the very beginning, that’s how the gentleman of eight is named) is actually a doll about the size of an average eight-year old. The disbelief that grips our mind in the face of this ridiculous scenario is aptly brought out by Lauren Cohan as she turns an incredulous gaze towards the grocery boy, who’s hung around all this while just to see her reaction upon beholding the terribly laughable scene. She is about to open her mouth; about to tell them she doesn’t like jokes (or at least not those that involve creepy dolls) and that they kindly escort her to the owner of the toy that’s lying harmlessly on the king-size chair. She is, however, silenced by two piteably earnest stares from the mother and father, both of whom have a protective arm around their lifeless son. It’s evident that the superficially perfect old couple is at best pathologically deluded; at worst, morbidly psychotic.
They tell the doll that Greta’s his new nanny, and escort an increasingly disbelieving Cohan to her room where she can sleep and bathe and chill and lock herself up when the scares begin. Which isn’t so far away, in fact. As it turns out, Old Mom and Old Dad have to leave for a long – overdue vacation the very next day, and they do so with painful quickness. The only interesting characters in the story so far, played by two veteran actors of Hollywood cinema, who could’ve actually taken us somewhere with their unusual mannersisms and acting prowess go away, leaving us with an angsty Laura and a creepy Brahms in a house that could’ve easily passed off as Hogwarts after the battle. Great. I’m so not expecting any jumpscares here.
This is where my first grouse with the movie comes in. It’s one thing for a flick to have slick and fast-paced cinematography, quite another for it to shove each plot point down our throats with the subtlety of a car crash.
And so the old couple goes hey-nonny-no and waddup, weird stuff in the dark! Greta’s necklace and dress get stolen when she’s taking a bath (the filmmakers didn’t forget to rub the sex appeal in with some explicit Cohan cutscenes under the shower), and Malcolm divides his time between flirting with the sexy nanny and being the Hermione Granger of the film, filling us in on the family’s background with special focus on the “odd” boy Brahms, through forced and abrupt conversations over the pool table. Brahms- the real Brahms who once lived there- was killed in a fire. The family’s been childless for twenty years, and are ostensibly using the lifelike doll as a means to mellow the pain of the tragedy. That’s their background. Also, nice try at a background. So Nanny is stuck in a large, conveniently creepy house with a lifeless being she has to regard as close to her son. Only, it’s not quite lifeless. Turns out, the very night Mom and Dad leave, Nanny starts hearing voices when she’s asleep. She gets up, looks about warily, mutters the characteristic “Hello?” (I burst into Adele and officially earned the status of the worst audience in the room), picks up the grossest candle from the mantlepiece and starts down the murky corridor. She chances upon a huge life- size painting of the family of three, with eight-year old Brahms looking just as creepy in real life, and for some reason starts walking towards it, her face radiating that typical ‘dazed’ look owned by Bipasha from back home. She stares into the painting and especially into Brahms’ face, and deliberately leans in as if waiting for the jump scare to get over with. OUT OF NOWHERE, A HAND GRABS HER NECK!
BAM! She wakes up from her dream.
If the terrified screams that this admittedly good scare elicited from the audience went through the roof, the groans that followed were enough to hit the Moon and back. If the door to the attic closing by itself was a creepy sight, the fact that it was automated made it about as interesting as a broken bit of pencil lead. If Greta suddenly seeing a man standing inches away made us pass out with her, it being a trick of the light turned it just as pointless as all the other aspects of this anthology of silly jumpscares. It’s almost as if the director was pinned down under the mounting SFX budget, choosing to introduce a harrowing element and then letting it fizzle out into a logical explanation. Grouse number two. Lack of brains and balls.
The one thing this movie is truly merciful about is its length. At the very least, it doesn’t derive pleasure in dragging its already beaten storyline to a long-drawn-out conclusion, quite unlike any of its Bollywood counterparts. We soon discover that the Doll is alive and can actually move by itself if left alone for some time. This Greta realises by accident, and later proves to Malcolm (who’s by now her boyfriend, guide, doormat and partner in one sexual act that was interrupted by the boy’s ghostly antics; I seriously can’t see how he’s not smashed the doll to bits by now). Things are just beginning to drift into the languid and the pointless, both of which being venomous waters for edge-of-the-seat thrillers like what this movie claims to be, when Greta’s ex-boyfriend Cole arrives on the scene out of nowhere to create trouble for the odd trio. Apparently Greta had flown to England while she was on the run from him, and he’s been physically violent to her on more than one occasion, even causing the death of their unborn child. Things go horribly awry when Cole tries to take Greta back home, Malcolm shoots her pleading looks and begs her to stay, and Greta gets torn between the aggressive advances of her ex (why did she even fall for him in the first place?) and the obligatory “love” she’s developed for the lifeless creature and the grocery boy within the millenial span of two weeks.
It is in a bloated, melodramatic showdown that this particular rollercoaster takes on its most dangerous turn. The climax was supposed to be the best twist of the lot; it was cinematic necessity- and half of the audience (including me) already knew that. But what I also knew was that if this potpourri of pathetic clichés and Halloween jumpscares, in its final turn of events, managed to surprise and spur into intrigue my mind- despite me knowing it was gonna put forth something remarkable- then I could truly declare that the movie had, at least partially, succeeded in its purpose. And God was witness to the fact that during the last one hour of desperate, whining attempts on part of the director to derive squeals from the audience, my mouth hadn’t so much as parted lips save for swallowing a yawn.
So does the climax live up to the cardboard posters?
Or does it, like all the other endeavors to scare me, fail miserably in its mission?
I quote Malcolm the grocery boy here. The truth lies somewhere in between.
While the climax (surprisingly enough) manages to derive a half-gasp-half-yell from my mouth (I know; hands up!), it also (and quite ironically for the purpose of a climax) raises more questions than it answers. I’m gonna be really fair and really dicky here and not reveal to you what the twist is. Like enough spoilers already bruh. Now stop whining before I get over my scruples.
But trust me on this; it’s by no means a satisfying end to an already tangled rigmarole of dolls and ghosts and hairy guys. While the climax may serve as the cinematic and adrenaline highpoint of the film, the director messed up big time by losing out on the key element every climax should provide- closure. I get this annoying sense of dissatisfaction as the credits roll; and no, it’s not the sweet pining that fills my heart after watching a particularly emotional piece of drama. I think the director was seriously erred in his calculations when he created the half-baked conclusion to this absurd ride. I left the theatre feeling more pissed than curious, and I’m pretty sure that is how everyone else felt; which is in no way gonna work in favor of the film or its creator. Well, at least the movie connected with me on one point. Now I know exactly how Malcolm felt when the doll threw a tantrum in the middle of his lovemaking with Greta.
It’s an overhyped ride that while acing the dips with panache, sucks big time in the connecting journey. The Boy, while offering a sufficiently perturbing, if not entirely original premise, fails hard in the construction of its plot. Note the use of the word “construction”, by which I mean to clarify there’s no fallacy whatsoever in its execution. The use of dark and light is used with surprising effectiveness and the doll is genuinely creepy. The editor in particular definitely deserves a standing ovation for seamlessly merging several different set pieces into one monster of a house, and for keeping the kinks fairly tight throughout the movie. The actors constitute the only other commendable part of an otherwise forgettable forgettable flick. The very ability to keep a straight face while trudging through the mass of shameless absurdity that is The Boy requires some serious acting skills. The music is adequate, with spooky piano lullabies empowering and adding flesh to the overall slow foreboding that runs throughout the film.
The plot is where the movie falls, and boy, how. Everything that happens in those two hours, happens in order to set store for something else that may happen in the future. It’s all one massive buildup for what I really hope is a much more engaging sequel (if there is one; the ending certainly suggests it, but I won’t mind at all if there isn’t). It establishes and establishes and establishes, and then collapses in a bloody heap. Watch it if you’re a die-hard horror fan like me, or if you want to experience the cinematic equivalent of an Essel World ride. It’s an interesting introduction for another psychopathic character to join the Joker’s Pantheon of Perennial Creeps. Even so; there’s little in this overcooked but underbaked, weird but unoriginal, engaging but disinterested tale of an unhinged lad trapped within a disciplinary society that’s gonna stay in your mind for more than a few days. Except the hair, of course; whatever you hear from anybody else, just remember- the boy is hairy as af. Strong viewer discretion is advised. Lol.
In conclusion, I’d like to describe the movie in the same one word that the father uses to describe his deranged lad.