Mothers of lifelike dolls, known as “Reborns” will love this creepy, twisty horror movie.
I immediately brought the premise of THE BOY, that a wealthy, elderly couple would hire a live-in nanny to care for their “son” – a life-sized, highly realistic doll.
The TV series Taboo did an episode on people who treat customized dolls as real babies and toddlers. It is a huge business – the expensive dolls are called “Reborn Dolls”. The overwhelming majority of reborn customers are older women. The process of buying a reborn replicates the “bringing the baby home” or “adoption process”. It is not presented as an online shopping basket purchase. The dolls come with fake birth certificates or adoption certificates. Many women collect reborns to fill a void of a lost child and may treat reborns as living babies.
Some women dress the dolls, wash their hair, and may even take them for walks in strollers and take them shopping. Reborn hobbyists refer to the emotional response to holding their dolls as cuddle therapy. Studies suggest cuddling a baby causes a release of hormones which produce a sense of emotional well-being, and some psychologists believe that this may happen with realistic dolls as well. This may explain why “reborn mothers” become emotionally attached to the reborn doll.
However, there is also a downside to having a reborn – a feeling of “repulsion”.
This can be explained by the “uncanny hypothesis” theory. This states that as objects become more lifelike they gain an increasing empathetic response, until a certain point at which the response changes to repulsion among some observers. Department stores have refused to stock the dolls because of this reaction, claiming they are too lifelike.
Katie toddler by Daisy Dolls Reborn Nursery. 32″ (81.2 cm). $395.00 USD
So when the elderly couple, Mr. Heelshire (Jim Norton) and Mrs. Heelshire (Diana Hardcastle), who live in an isolated, dark and large country mansion, hire an American, Greta (Lauren Cohan), to be the full-time nanny for their “son” Brahms, I was not surprised that Brahms turned out to be a well-dressed, porcelain-faced, life-size doll.
Mrs. Heelshire seems hysterically obsessive over Brahms and displays exaggerated fawning over him alternating with a big dose of fear. At first Greta laughs but quickly realizes that the Heelshire’s treat the doll as a real-life boy.
Mrs. Heelshire has written out a very detailed list of things Greta must do each day for Brahms. She must get him dressed in the morning, serve him breakfast, read to him for 3 hours a day, play his favorite music very loud, and later, get him ready for bed. Brahms expects a goodnight kiss. She must not, under any circumstance, change anything.
Brahms like rituals. He must be autistic.
And, just so Greta knows, Brahms has a playful streak.
Greta must not take Brahms to the village or anywhere else. He doesn’t like car rides. A deliveryman, Malcolm (Rupert Evans), comes once a week with groceries. Its handsome Malcolm who explains to Greta what the hell is going on with the Heelshires and the life-size doll.
Malcolm tells her that the real Brahms died when he was 8-years-old in a house fire 20 years earlier. The Heelshires are still grieving and the doll represents their lost child. With a big paycheck brought by Malcolm every week, Greta decides it’s a pretty good place to get over the abusive relationship with her boyfriend back in the U.S.
As soon as the Heelshires see that Greta can follow the rules, they take off for a well-deserved vacation. Of course, as soon as the taxi takes the Heelshires away, Greta reads, calls her best friend, and just hangs out. She ignores the sacred rules of the list.
Brahms’ “playfulness” shows itself and Greta starts to think that the Heelshires forgot to mention that Brahms’ spirit is actually residing in the doll!
The Incorruptibles of various holy men and women are on display in churches and monasteries all over the world. Some believe that the spirit of the person resides in the body for veneration. There are many famous incorruptible saints of the Catholic Church such as Saint Catherine of Bologna (8 September 1413 – 9 March 1463).
In 1927, the spiritual leader of Russia’s Buddhists gathered his students and announced his plans to die. Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, the 12th Pandito Hambo Lama, then 75 and retired, instructed those gathered around him to “visit and look at my body” in 30 years. He crossed his legs into the lotus position, began to meditate and, chanting a prayer for the dead, died. The body stayed in the ground for 75 years. In 2002, when the tomb was opened, Buddhist monks saw that the body of their teacher had not decayed. Now the relics, which are kept in a special shrine, are an object of worship.
Soon enough, Greta is treating Brahms exactly as an attentive mother would. Malcolm arrives and find Brahms neatly dressed and carried by Greta. She refuses his invitation for a drink in town, telling him she could not leave Brahms alone.
Greta then tells Malcolm that she has been “working” with Brahms’ spirit – and she shows him the game they play together. Malcolm watches in amazement as Brahms – left alone – has actually moved! Greta has become enthralled with Brahms! He’s magical and she is his guardian.
Malcolm warns Greta that Brahms wasn’t exactly an angelic child and if his spirit is residing in the doll, it might not be a friendly ghost. Malcolm might be thinking Brahms is more like the demon doll Annabelle.
Annabelle is a vintage Raggedy Ann doll purchased in 1970 by a mother for her daughter Donna’s 28th birthday. The doll began to move around Donna’s apartment and leave messages for her on parchment, which Donna did not own. Self-proclaimed demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in and told Donna that Annabelle was actually inhabited by an inhuman, demon spirit. They then held an exorcism for the doll and removed it from her home.
The exorcism did not take and the Warrens’ power steering and brakes failed during their drive home with the doll in the car. The doll resides in a special glass case with several locks at The Warren’s Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut.
From this point on, THE BOY changes its tone and, while not a demon doll like Annabelle, becomes more like Fats, Anthony Hopkin’s dummy in MAGIC.
So, considering my interest in Incorruptibles, collecting folk dolls from various countries and owning several fetish dolls from Africa, I was buying into the premise of THE BOY. The ending is really freaky and creepy. It will stay with you.
I really liked Lauren Cohan’s performance with its shadings of Greta first going along with the ruse, then loving being the guardian of a true phenomenon. But it is Mrs. Heelshire, Diana Hardcastle, who takes her small role and gives a perfect performance showing in her scenes the entire history of her 20 years terrorized by Brahms.
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Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at firstname.lastname@example.org.