Since its inception way back in the late 80s, doll horror has now become a classic trope of the genre and if you think about it, executing it in an audio-visual medium is no piece of cake. Doll horror, if not pulled off correctly, can often become more of a parody that no one would take seriously. But despite all the complications that it comes with, every once in a while filmmakers take the risk of giving us yet another doll horror film.
‘The Boy’ is another one of these movies, but instead of treading the familiar generic “paranormal” path, the film brings its own twists and turns to stand out in the overcrowded sub-genre. And since the twists in it can often get a little more complex than would expect, you might need some explaining to understand what happens throughout its runtime. So read on ahead to get a better hold on what the movie tries to portray.
An American woman named Greta takes up the job of babysitting a young boy in the secluded British town. But when she arrives there, it turns out that she is expected to be the nanny of a life-sized porcelain doll. For obvious reasons, she does not take her job too seriously and simply assumes that the doll’s “parents” are only using it to cope with the death of their son. But soon, she discovers that the doll holds far more secrets than she had initially imagined.
Brahms’ Origins, Explained
Greta, the main protagonist of the film, accepts the job of babysitting a young boy, but to her surprise, this boy turns out to be a porcelain doll named Brahms. And as strange as it may seem, Greta just goes on ahead to do her job. After the boy’s parents leave for a vacation, hoping that Greta will be able to take care of his, things start to get really creepy. Curious to find out more about the doll, Greta begins to investigate its past and asks Malcolm what he knows.
Malcolm tells her that Brahms was once a real boy and was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire. But then, one day, their house caught fire and after not being able to escape on time, Brahms died. At first, he claims that the doll is simply a coping mechanism for the family to deal with their loss. However, in another scene, he recalls that there two polar stories surrounding the boy’s past.
There are some people in the town who feel sorry for him as they remember him being a very good boy, but on the other hand, there are others who claim that the boy was evil. Malcolm also tells her about this one incident where he met Mr. Heelshire wrapping his drunk around the pool table and mumbling to himself. Taking advantage of the situation, Malcolm had asked him what Brahms was like when he was alive. To this, Mr. Heelshire had only responded with one word—”odd.”
When the doll starts showing signs of life and Malcolm realizes that Greta is getting attached to him, he warns her by disclosing a more detailed story surrounding Brahms’ death. According to what he knows, when he was a child, Brahms used to play with another girl of his age named Emily Cribbs. On Brahms’ 8th birthday, Emily went to play with Brahms in the Heelshire mansion and never returned. Her body was later discovered in the woods with her skull crushed. When the cops arrived at the mansion to question the young boy, it was already burning down and Brahms was later found dead. With this, Malcolm concludes that Brahms’ spirit, which seemingly resides in the doll, could possibly evil.
Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire’s Suicide
After familiarizing Greta with a set of rules that she is expected to follow, Brahms’ parents leave her all alone with the doll and head off for a vacation. However, it later turns out that the whole vacation thing was just a lie. A scene later reveals Mrs. Heelshire writing a later to Brahms which states: “We cannot bear to live with what you have become. The girl is yours now.” After writing this letter, both Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire stuff their coats with rocks and commit suicide. As a viewer, at this point, you assume that Brahms’ parents were probably being haunted by the spirit of the doll and that’s when they finally decided to end their lives. But the truth is a lot more complex than that.
Greta’s Past and a Reflection of her Toxic Relationships
Greta’s past and her own insecurities are a secondary part of the film’s overarching storyline, but they play a key role in reflecting her relationship with Brahms. Greta comes to the Heelshire mansion 20 years after the Brahms’ death to babysit the doll. In its initial moments, it is foreshadowed that Greta is actually an American and she only took up this job to escape her previous abusive relationship with a man named Cole. More so, she also has a restraining order against this ex-boyfriend.
But after moving into the Heelshire mansion, things eventually start getting a lot better for her. She gets close to Malcolm and also seeks to mend her broken heart by looking out for Brahms. Although she is initially creeped out by the doll, she later assumes that Brahms is only the spirit of an innocent young boy who wants to be cared for. But eventually, she, too, realizes that the truth holds a lot more gravity than that.
The Ending: Is Brahms Still Alive?
Much later in the movie, Gerta’s ex-boyfriend shows up at the mansion and asks her to come back to him. He orders her to pack her bags so that they can leave the next day. Greta goes to sleep with the doll and promises it that she’ll never leave while Cole sleeps in a different room. In the middle of the night, blood drips down from the ceiling on Cole’s face and he assumes that is Greta is doing this just to get him out of there. He calls her to the room and shows her a bloody inscription on the wall that says “Get Out.” Realizing that Brahms did it using rat blood, she tries explaining it to him, but he refuses to believe her.
Even Malcolm ends up joining them and he, too, tries to convince Cole that there’s a lot more to the doll than meets the eye. Cole gets a fit of anger and he smashes the doll’s face. This is when the walls of the entire house start creaking and a full-blown man in his twenties, wearing a porcelain mask, emerges out from the back of a mirror. He kills Cole, Malcolm and Greta soon realize that he is the actual Brahms. The doll was somewhat of a pawn to hide the fact that he still lives in the house and this itself was being mildly foreshadowed throughout the runtime of the film.
Greta and Malcolm try to find their way out of the house to escape Brahms, but only Greta is able to get out. In order to save Malcolm, she returns to the mansion and tells Brahms that she came back for him. She then tells him that according to his rules, it’s now time for him to go to sleep. Just when he asks her to give her a goodnight kiss, she stabs him with a screwdriver and gets out of there with Malcolm. In the closing scene of the film, Brahms can be seen putting back pieces of the doll together, suggesting that he is probably still alive.
From all of this, we can deduce that Brahms never died in the first place. He was always a twisted little kid and he ended up murdering Emily Cribbs on his 8th birthday. To save him from the world, his parents faked his death and hid him in the walls of their grand mansion. Since then, Brahms has been lurking in the shadows of the mansion, pretending that he is dead to the world. This explains how he’s a full-grown man now. It also reflects on why Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire committed suicide. Eventually, their guilt outweighed their love for their child and they decided to end their own suffering.
Apart from this, the ending of the film also reflects on how Greta chooses to finally recover from her past by ending all of her previous toxic relationships. From the beginning of the film, she clearly struggles to get rid of Cole and finds it hard to move on. Even after moving on ahead with her life, she jumps into a toxic relationship with Brahms without even knowing who he truly is. In the final moments of the movie, when she decides to kill Brahms and save Malcolm, she liberates herself from her skewed sense of attachment towards all the destructive people in her life.
Visual Metaphors of ‘The Boy’, Explained
There are several hints dropped throughout the runtime of the film, that lead up to its big reveal and it’s these hints that will further help you understand who Brahms is and how has he been able to move the doll all this while.
- In the beginning of the movie, when Mrs. Heelshire tells Greta about the rules of the house, she makes it clear that Brahms likes his music loud and even when she’s reading something to him, she should be loud and clear with her words. This suggests that since Brahms lives in the walls, music or anything that is being read out to him should be loud enough to be audible through the walls.
- As soon as she enters the Heelshire mansion, Greta hears weird noises in the walls and even throughout the movie, there seem to be weird sounds flowing through the pipelines of the mansion. These sounds simply indicate that Brahms is moving inside the walls and is keeping a close eye on Greta.
- Before leaving her with Brahms, Mrs. Heelshire tells Greta “Despite what it looks like on the outside, our son is still here with us. Do you understand?” He is, indeed, still with them.
- Mrs. Heelshire also tells her that they save all of their uneaten food and it is pretty obvious that all of this food goes to Brahms.
- The Heelshires also seem to be very particular about keeping their house vermin free. They emphasize on how she’s expected to keep the mouse traps clean so that none of the mice enter the walls of the house. Well, with this, they’re clearly trying to keep the walls clean so that Brahms can move around freely and not pull off any mischief with the rats.
- When Greta gets trapped in the Attic for the first time, she sees a large silhouette and not of a childlike doll.
- Mrs. Heelshire tells Greta that Brahms is shy and only moves when no one is watching. Even in the scene where Greta tries to prove it to Malcolm that the doll is alive, she first knocks on the wall and only then the house begins to creak and the doll moves. This shows that the doll was never actually moving on its own but was being moved by the real Brahms who lives in the walls.
- The film drops another subtle hint through one of Greta’s dream. She dreams of Brahms’ hand coming right out of a wall to choke her.
- One final hint that most viewers might have missed out on is the epitaph on Brahms’ tombstone. It says: “…he shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
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