The Boy

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The Boy

“The Boy” is an atmospheric thriller in the old style, short on sex and violence, long on making the most of its meat-and-potatoes horror premise. It’s too simple a movie to be a blockbuster, and not quite good enough to compensate for its lack of pizzazz (and star power), but people who like mild funhouse scares and creepy puppets will find it well worth the rental fee at Redbox (assuming that fee is still somewhere in the $1 range).

This is the story of a young American woman, Greta (Lauren Cohan), who becomes a nanny for an upper-crust English family, the Heelshires, at their fancy country estate. Despite being rather old, Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) are the parents of a young boy, named Brahms, who Greta is surprised to learn is a porcelain doll about the size of a 6-year-old. The Heelshires treat the doll like a living boy and give Greta detailed instructions for his care before heading out of town on a trip.

As far as cushy jobs go, babysitting a toy is a pretty good one, and Greta is more amused than unsettled by the whole thing. She has a local delivery man, Malcolm (Rupert Evans), checking in occasionally, being a possible love interest, and filling her in on the Heelshires’ backstory. We also learn, via multiple references to it, that Greta has come to England fleeing a bad situation with a former boyfriend, Cole (Ben Robson), whom the movie mentions far too often for him not to show up eventually. Still, not a bad way to spend a summer.

Except that Brahms the doll starts moving. Or so it seems, anyway. He keeps not being where Greta put him, and she’s the only person in the house, so…. Admirably, though the film takes place in a small geographic space and has a tiny cast of characters, the scenario (by first-time screenwriter Stacey Menear) actually lends itself to multiple explanations, none of which leap out as the obvious one. The director, William Brent Bell (“The Devil Inside,” “Stay Alive”), avoids tipping his hand too early, leaving most of the possible outcomes on the table.

Unfortunately, the actual resolution, while fun, can’t withstand even minor logical scrutiny. The film is thus relegated to the category of disposable thrillers that are OK while they last — some half-decent tension, a few mild surprises — but fall apart like cotton candy in the end.

C+ (1 hr., 37 min.; PG-13, a little violence and some scariness.)