Lauren Cohan is an American in England seemingly escaping something from her past. She accepts a position as nanny to an elderly couple (Diana Hardcastle and Jim Norton) in a country estate who have a peculiar request of her. Her ward is a doll they name Brahms, who is very much like the son they tragically lost many years ago. While the couple are away, Cohan is left with a very strict set of instructions in looking after Brahms. As if this isn’t barmy enough, Cohan starts to suspect that the doll is actually alive and is soon acting up. Rupert Evans plays a local delivery man who checks in on Cohan from time to time likely in the hopes of getting into her pants.
I knew nothing going into this William Brent Bell horror flick from 2016, and although it’s very, very mild stuff it’s definitely got some upside. For starters, as shot by Daniel Pearl (who shot both versions of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in very different ways and has an extensive list of music video credits too) it’s typically good-looking. It’s stunning and well-lit throughout, and I price a good-looking horror film fairly highly. Meanwhile, as much as the real horror doesn’t turn up until around 15 minutes left, there’s a psychological aspect with Lauren Cohan seemingly starting to lose perspective, that is actually really interesting. I lost interest in “The Walking Dead” somewhere before the third season, but Cohan is easy to take in the lead here. It’s not a simple task to pull off being scared by a doll, but she does it well. Also very fine is veteran English TV actress Diana Hardcastle (Tom Wilkinson’s wife, apparently), though Rupert Evans is a tad stiff.
It’s pretty freaking wack-a-doodle at times, with the central premise a little reminiscent of the 1988 horror pic “Pin”, if you’ve ever seen that. Scripted by Stacey Menear (a debutant) it’ll definitely give you an 80s horror movie vibe in every way except for perhaps the cinematography. Bell is incrementally improving as a director with each film I’ve seen, with the previous “The Devil Inside” agonisingly close to a recommendation (“Stay Alive” was kinda watchable too, but less so), and this one just tipping over into earning one. It’s also definitely a thousand times better than the lame “Annabelle”, another horror film about a possibly alive and evil doll. There’s a great bit where Cohan wipes away the dolls tears only to realise that it’s a leak in the ceiling. Well-played there, you nearly got me. I also appreciated that psychological issues or not, Cohan manages to prove to someone else fairly quickly that the doll is indeed moving on its own. The final 15 minutes as I say gets a little more intense, and if the doll per se is not a genuinely menacing threat, the film certainly gets pretty close to being creepy in a twist that I seemed to enjoy a bit more than most others did.
A mildly effective but clichéd horror film, I'd only give this one a fairly soft recommendation. However, that's more than a lot of horror films lately, and it's both extremely good-looking and solidly performed for the most part. In fact I think Lauren Cohan, the cinematography and the last 15 minutes deserve a better film. At the rate he's going, Bell's next film might just be a total winner.