The Boy is a terrifying and suspense-filled unconventional horror
When horror is reinvented as in the superb The Boy, it’s an invigorating experience you will never forget!
In search of a fresh start away from a troubled past, a young American woman seeks refuge in an isolated English village, only to find herself trapped in a waking nightmare in The Boy, an unconventional horror thriller from director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside) and screenwriter Stacey Menear,
Greta Evans, The Boy’s resilient, resourceful young heroine, has fled small-town Montana for the English countryside, hoping for a fresh start. Her new job with the wealthy Heelshire family is a chance to take refuge, build up a nest egg and figure out next steps as far away from her old life as possible. Instead she finds herself on the other side of the world, far from friends and family, caring for a life-size porcelain doll that she is expected to treat like a real child.
“I wanted to make a classic haunted-house story,” says Bell.
“I figured it was the perfect next step for me. The script is character-driven, layered and subtle, but at the same time really frightening. So much happens in the film, which is rare for a scary movie. There’s also a great twist, which was a blast to direct. We all thought we could make something that would last forever and I hope that is what we made.”
Keeping events rooted in reality is key to terrifying audiences, the director says. “When you’re alone in your house, strange things happen,” Bell says. “You wake up in the middle of the night and you think you hear footsteps. Sounds seem so much louder. Every little thing plays on your imagination. Our main character, Greta, is in a huge, unfamiliar house. We can’t tell if the things that happen are just in her head. She sees and hears little things that could just be tricks of the imagination. It could just be her going a little bit insane from the paranoia of being alone in a rambling place in the middle of nowhere.”
For screenwriter Stacey Menear, the inspiration for his first produced feature film, The Boy, goes back to his childhood and the supremely scary thrillers he enjoyed while growing up. From The People Under the Stairs and The Innocents to classic “Twilight Zone” episodes, Menear drew from a wide-ranging array of influences to create a truly original, chilling new tale.
“I really love stories that deal with characters learning something through a terrifying event,” says Menear, whose 2009 screenplay Mixtape was included on the prestigious Hollywood Blacklist of best unproduced scripts.
“Scary dolls have always fascinated me. So I started to do some research on them and found out that are there are a lot of them around in real life. There are dolls that are supposedly haunted and others are said to have come to life. Starting from there, I tried to build in something a little different that would be unexpected and scary and really fun to watch.”
An early draft of Menear’s eerie tale attracted the attention of producer Matt Berenson, whose résumé ranges from the acclaimed drama The Place Beyond the Pines to the recent reboot of the quintessential monster movie, I, Frankenstein. Berenson brought the script to Lakeshore Entertainment, where top executives instantly recognized its potential as an intriguing character study with elements of both classic horror and supernatural psychological thriller. “It was a very well-written script with an unusual twist that we didn’t see coming,” says Rosenberg.
Among the script’s selling points for Lakeshore were its uniqueness and the way it keeps audiences guessing right up until the surprising conclusion, says Wright. “It’s difficult to pigeonhole this film, which is one of the things we liked about it,” adds producer Richard Wright, “What I can say is that by page 20, I had to turn to the end, because I could not wait to see what happened. I knew something weird was going to happen, but what was it? I just couldn’t stand the suspense.”
Once Lakeshore had acquired the script and the producers began looking for a director, they set their sights on William Brent Bell to direct. Bell had already had a resounding success with his low-budget horror hit, The Devil Inside, and was poised to take on a bigger project. Bell, who is known to his colleagues as Brent, saw an opportunity to do something provocative and unique.
“We really wanted to make sure it was somebody who had worked in this milieu before,” says Lucchesi.“The Devil Inside was truly terrifying and extremely well-directed. It was made for about a million dollars, and it ended up grossing over $50 million.”
Initial meetings with Bell impressed the producers even more and convinced them he was the right director for the film. “I liked him from the moment we started talking,” Lucchesi says. “He brought another level of artistry to the film and was an absolute joy to work with. He’s great with the actors, plus he understands scary and how to edit to achieve maximum thrills.”
Bell’s preparation and proven expertise in the genre convinced the producers he was the right director to realize the enormous potential of Menear’s script. “He was impressively articulate in explaining what he would do for the movie,” Rosenberg says. “It was clear he could handle the subtleties. This is as much a psychological thriller as it is a horror film. There are plenty of scares, but they work because of the tension Brent creates throughout, not from the actual event themselves. You won’t see what’s coming.”
Bell says that although he regularly receives some pretty scary screenplays for consideration, it is rare for him to find one this good.
“A girl alone in a strange house has been done a lot,” he says. “It’s hard to find a unique approach to that, but Stacey keeps everything moving and he keeps you guessing throughout the entire script. As the story progresses, you want to know what’s going to happen with this doll. Stacey constructed a twist that will have people talking now and will stand the test of time as a classic thriller.”
The director brought new ideas and energy to the script, says Menear. “Brent’s ideas sharpened a lot of the scares and pushed me to find the characters in a way that I hadn’t before. He helped make the whole script more grounded. I loved watching my characters spring to life. I wrote it in a specific way and then it became something new. It was really fun to be surprised by my own writing.”
According to producer Wright, Bell has packed the film with the kinds of “jump scares” that will delight audiences. “Brent is a master of creating jump scares,” says the producer. “He knows how to make them work without being cheesy. Honestly, you’re going to jump right out of your skin. In addition to that, he creates a creepy, unsettling feeling of dread underlying everything.”
Actress Lauren Cohan captures the vulnerability and strength of a young woman left with few choices, but determined to make the best of the ones she has. After seven seasons playing zombie-apocalypse survivor Maggie Greene on the hit AMC television series “The Walking Dead,” Cohan admits the last thing she thought she wanted to do was a horror film.
“I was looking for something super sweet and relaxing and romantic,” she says. “But once I started reading this, I couldn’t stop. I was terrified and exhilarated throughout and that’s exactly how I felt as we filmed it. Greta goes on a monumental journey, which was so appealing to me. This set-up is the last thing she expected. But by the time she realizes her employers want her to take care of a doll, she figures they’re paying her all this money just to play along, so why not? But the situation is not exactly what it seems. When strange things begin to happen, it totally unnerves her. It gets super spooky and I hope the audience will be as scared watching it as I was reading it.”
The Boy has all the elements Jim Norton looks for in a project, including interesting, well-drawn characters, a smart script and an original story. “It’s an ingenious and very scary tale of unconditional love gone wrong,” the actor notes. “These parents love their child so much that they will do anything to safeguard his memory. They’ve never quite come to terms with their loss. People deal with grief in different ways and the Heelshires invent another character in their lives in order to retain their sanity. They hire a lovely young woman to look after their child so they can go away on holiday and that’s basically the story. But of course, as in most really good thrillers, nothing is what it seems.”
A terrifying and suspense-filled ride, The Boy will have audiences glued to their seats. “If you go the movies to be scared, this will scare you,” Wright says. “It’s funny because in real life, you would do whatever you could not to be in this situation. The characters in the film are in terrible danger and there’s a certain glee we get from that. You feel that something menacing is lurking just out of sight, and yet you go deeper and deeper into the danger zone alongside Greta.”
The movie’s final moments will be unforgettable, promises Menear. “I think people will be blown away. If you watch it a second time, you will see all kinds of clues scattered throughout, but while you’re watching it, you won’t see it coming.”
With help from his top-notch production team, Bell feels confident he has made a movie that will stand the test of time. “It didn’t have a big budget, but the amount of blood, sweat and tears we put into it was considerable,” says the director. “We agonized over the design of the doll. We found a way to shoot a couple of extra days because we thought we really were onto something. Because everyone was so on top of things, we were able to complete a very beautiful, elegant movie in only 24 days.
“I really hope we have managed to make a movie that will be just as viewable 30 years from now as it is now, with the same power when the big reveal happens,” says Bell. “I told the crew when we started making the film that I didn’t just want to make a scary movie. I wanted to make something that was going to last, and I think that’s what we did.”