William Brent Bell's horror film The Boy offers up tragic backstories for a number of its characters, which include not only the titular boy's immediate family, but also the young woman who unwittingly wanders into their tale while fleeing from her own troubles. Greta (Lauren Cohan), an American nanny looking to escape a dangerous ex, decides to travel to a country estate somewhere in Britain; she is asked to look after a boy named Brahms while his parents (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) take a much needed holiday. Once Greta arrives, however, she learns the full truth: "Brahms" is actually a doll, which has come to represent the child whom the now elderly couple lost more than two decades ago in a house fire. Regardless, she still accepts the job. She then spends a great deal of time alone in the rural area, removed from much of civilization, although she does find a companion in the charming, somewhat goofy Malcolm (an amiable Rupert Evans), who fills in several ominous details about Brahms. Of course, the parents' vacation turns out to be longer than previously anticipated, and Greta is left isolated with the doll, which is controlled by a spirit that desperately wants to make its presence felt.
While the horror-thriller trope of a deadly event involving children has bred compelling, fright-filled stories in the past, The Boy ultimately falls well short of even moderate expectations. Veteran actors Norton and Hardcastle are disconcerting and heartbreaking as parents who are literally unable to escape the ghost of their offspring, but their appearances are relegated to only a few scenes. Cohan (whom some viewers will recognize from her role as Maggie on the AMC television series The Walking Dead) gives the part of Greta her all, but she is undermined by the lazy plot and a couple of scenes that seem to exist just to highlight her sex appeal. The Boy moves so slowly at first that it appears to be less of a horror movie and more of a character study, a look at how we deal with traumatic loss and fall into repetitive, self-destructive patterns. Alas, this pandering piece of cinema refuses to explore these ideas, and ends up being merely a poorly executed would-be nail-biter with a laughable conceit. Bell's film can be interesting at times, but it is never truly compelling and is simply not built to be taken seriously as top-shelf horror material.