Posts Tagged ‘william brent bell’

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In other reviews on this site of recent vintage, I’ve bitched about how a particularly brutal work schedule kept me from getting to the theater to see anything new for a few months, and one of the flicks I definitely wanted to check out that hit screens in this early-2016 time frame was director William Brent Bell’s The Boy. It must have been a really solid marketing campaign that sold me on the idea of seeing this one, because Bell’s previous film, The Devil Inside, was an uninspired, derivative mess, but what can I say? Stories about evil dolls, puppets, ventriloquist’s dummies, and the like have always been right up my alley. So I was pleased as punch when a free DVD “screener” copy of this (with no extras included, but I’m not complaining) showed up in my mailbox courtesy of Universal/STX Entertainment. I guess sometimes it pays to wait things out, after all.

Right off the bat the PG-13 rating appended to this film provides a fairly clear indication that it’s going to be light on the blood and guts, but that’s no reason to dismiss it out of hand — once in awhile, after all, a fairly decent atmospheric/psychological horror sneaks out with “less” than an R rating, and I’m happy to report that’s exactly what The Boy is. Bell has already proven over the course of his short-but-successful (in box office terms, if not artistic ones) career that re-inventing the wheel isn’t his forte, but here, at least, he combines a number of familiar elements we all know and love into a reasonably involving and quite-nice-looking serving of something we’ve had served to us before, but certainly don’t mind sampling again.

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The setup is as follows : college-age Montana girl Greta Evans (played by Lauren Cohan) is looking to split her small-town life after a nasty breakup, and ends up going about as far away from home as she possibly can when she accepts a gig as a nanny for a small boy named Brahms (think the composer) Heelshire living with his uncharacteristically elderly parents in a sprawling, musty old house in the rural English countryside (by way of British Columbia, where the film was actually shot). Mr. (Jim Norton) and Mrs. (Diana Hardcastle) Heelshire both possess the sort of polite-but-distant temperament one frankly expects to find among UK aristocracy, so no big surprises there, but Brahms himself isn’t what Greta was figuring on at all — probably because he’s made of porcelain. But what the heck, mummy and daddy treat him like the real thing, and the pay is great, so she’s more than willing to swallow her pride — eventually, mind you — and play along. Still, the fact that Brahms’ parents are so eager to split town the minute she shows up is a pretty solid clue that something else beyond the surface-level insanity that’s plain for anyone to see is going on here.

Speaking of which — the rules for “caring” for Brahms are all very clever hints in retrospect that screenwriter Stacey Menear disguises quite well, and while the “ghost living in a doll” angle has been done to death, Bell’s lushly-shot film injects the would-be-tired trope with more life than it probably either expects or, frankly, deserves. The fetching and more-than-able Cohan does a nice job in the lead role here and Rupert Evans is likable as her newfound love interest, Malcolm, but it’s not until her pyscho ex, Cole (Ben Robson) shows up out of nowhere that a real sense of dread descends over the proceedings — first from him, and then from parts unforeseen altogether. To say much more would leave me open to accusations of “spoiling” the movie, so let me just draw your attention one more time to the statement I made a second ago about the “rules” for Brahms being telltale signs that there is, perhaps, something else entirely going on here.

Lauren Cohan stars in a scene from the movie "The Boy." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/STX Productions) See MOVIE-REVIEW-THE-BOY Jan. 22, 2016.

And hey, I admit — I didn’t see the twist in this flick coming. I feel downright stupid saying that now, of course, but “how stupid am I, anyway?” moments are too few and far between in the horror and thriller genres these days, so on the rare occasions when they do occur, I’m happy to take them even if — or maybe precisely because — they make me feel like a dumb schmuck. Granted, predicating your entire film on one big twist means that it probably won’t hold up to repeat viewings, but at least it also means that the first (and perhaps only) time you see The Boy will be a fairly memorable experience.

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All in all, then, Bell and his better-than-competent cast and crew have delivered a better-than-competent finished product here. A masterwork it certainly isn’t, but The Boy is most definitely worthy of both a recommendation on my part and a look on yours. It sure won’t knock your socks off, but it’ll leave you saying “hey, I’m glad I checked that out,” and that marks it as a solid (enough) cinematic accomplishment in my book.

 

I know, I know — I should’ve known better, I really should have. But last January brought us a dead-of-winter studio- dump-off exorcism flick(The Rite) that (admittedly modestly) transcended expectations, so I thought hell, why not?

My mistake. Director/Co-Writer William Brent Bell’s The Devil Inside, supposedly — ahem! — “inspired by true events” (a term so vague as to be less than meaningless — given that our story here revolves around a young woman whose mother killed three people while she was being exorcised and said daughter’s journey to Rome to “reconnect” (or something) with mom after not seeing her for many years I’m thinking the only “true event” that needs to have occurred for this film to “base” itself on is that some girl at some point in time had a mom who underwent an exorcism) had damn well better end up being one of the worst films of 2012 or else we’re in for a very bad, and very long, year.

Eternal optimist (ha!) that I am, tough, I’ll start off by highlighting some of the film’s few good points : the SPFX aren’t too bad, especially the body-contortion stuff. The acting is passable enough. Romania makes a passable stand-in-on-the-cheap for the Vatican. And that’s about it.

Now for the more lengthy list of flaws, and please bear with me here! First off, the film’s use of  “handheld” or “DIY” -style camerawork is uninspired throughout, and downright implausible in many instances, such as on the numerous occasions where the long-suffering “documentarian” of the piece, Michael (Ionut Grama), is actually visible in-shot with his fucking camera? Huh? Who exactly is doing the filming in these sequences, then? Never mind, because that’s nothing compared to the gaping plot holes on offer here,so — spoiler alert! — here’s a rundown of just some of the more glaring ones for your edification —

The woman whose exorcism is at the heart of the story here, one Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) is sentenced to spend the rest of her life in the bughouse by the courts here in the good ol’ US of A, and is then — get this — transferred to a mental hospital in Rome. Did you know our legal system worked that way? I sure didn’t.

Next up, we’ve got the pesky little backstory provided by one of the priests performing secret, unauthorized-by-the-Vatican exorcisms (the other half of the duo being Father David, played by Evan Helmuth, who fulfills the stereotypical doomed-priest-in-an-Exorcist-knock-off’s role) that our story’s heroine, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) latches onto in her quest to get some help for her mom. This guy, Father Ben (Simon Quarterman), lays down the following whoppers in the space of just a few sentences : his father was a Catholic priest who performed exorcisms (huh? I didn’t think they were allowed to have families), dad started taking him along with him to these exorcisms when he was just 13 years old (double huh? are exorcists now participating in bring-your-kid-to-work day?), and by age 17 he was already performing exorcisms on his own (triple huh? he couldn’t have even been ordained as a priest by that age).

If that’s still not enough for you, how about the scene where the two priests, Isabella, and Michael all go in to see possessed-Mom and are somehow allowed to bring in all their own heart-rate-monitoring and other medical equipment even though the Holy See has expressly forbidden this ragtag crew from doing any of this shit?  Okay, fair enough, the movie explains that the facility mommie dearest is kept in isn’t technically within Vatican walls, but no hospital, mental or physical, is going to allow you to wheel all that stuff in when you’re visiting a patient.

Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but The Devil Inside actually requires the audience to have no capacity to think whatsoever in order for it to be taken even remotely seriously. The fact that it’s never even remotely scary certainly doesn’t help matters much either, but let’s not kid ourselves, that’s not even much of an expectation these days, so we won’t hold that against it — not that we really even need to. This is an absurd, abominably lousy flick in pretty much any and every other respect, and who knows? Maybe it really will, finally, be the last nail in the coffin for the whole “handheld-horror” subgenre. Although that assumption has certainly been made way too many times to count at this point.