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Exclusive: William Brent Bell Talks Creating The Boy

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theboy1 - Exclusive: William Brent Bell Talks Creating The Boy

Creepy doll movies haven’t really caught on as a trend, but there are enough of them – ranging from Magic in the 1970s to the current Annabelle franchise – to be acknowledged as a sub-genre.

The latest one has been garnering great reviews (you’ll find Ari Drew’s here) and causing some folks to lock their toy chests. It’s called The Boy, and it’s about a young American named Greta (Lauren Cohan) who takes a job as a nanny for an 8-year-old boy in a remote English village. To her surprise, Greta soon learns the child of her new employers is actually a life-sized doll they call Brahms.

They care for the doll as if it was human, which helps the eccentric couple cope with the death of their own beloved son 20 years earlier. The couple leave on a trip, leaving Greta with a long list of strict rules. When Greta violates their dos and don’ts, a series of disturbing and inexplicable events bring her worst fears to light…. that the doll might actually be alive.

We recently caught up with The Boy’s director, William Brent Bell, whose previous credits include Wer and The Devil Inside.

williambrentbell - Exclusive: William Brent Bell Talks Creating The Boy

When I introduced myself, he said, “Oh, another Stacey… our screenwriter, Stacey Menear, is a guy though. I thought it was a woman when I first saw the script, but it turns out he is a dude from Jersey.”

“Bet he gets that a lot. He and Stacy Keach ought to have a support group of two,” I said. Since The Boy is Stacey’s first screenplay produced, it makes sense no one knows who he is yet… but he does have another project lined up, called Mixtape, although it’s not horror.

When it came to creating the doll from scratch and making him a unique character, Bell says, “That was probably the most significant part of the whole process: making the boy perfect.” They did, but it was down to the wire. “Even the day or two before shooting, there were elements that were completely off. I wasn’t having a meltdown, but until the day before his haircut was so bad, he looked like a male ice skater. I was sure nobody would be scared by this boy with this frilly little hair, all spray and curling iron, and so we got the hair right.”

The structure of Brahms’ face was very important too; Chucky is great, but Bell wanted to avoid any cartooniness. “I was inspired by some pretty cool antique dolls, but mostly I was inspired by Damien from The Omen and characters like him. The best inspiration was actual creepy little boys.”

Bell said he had master sculptors from Canada working on Brahms, and everything down to the size and shape of his eyes was cause for discussion. “He is sweet looking. I think he should look adorable, but [like] he has a knife hidden behind his back. It turned out being cool.”

Another non-human character in the film is the amazing mansion where the action takes place. I asked Bell if it was a practical location or if they shot on a soundstage. “Well, it was kind of both. We went up there to Victoria to look at that place and another castle… they’re pretty much castles, and that one was perfect. I hadn’t really seen that style ever, or certainly not much. I thought that was a unique look, and it is scary. Then the interior, that is what it really looks like, you know. But to be able to do certain things, we re-created the pieces of that castle on a stage. It looked so great, even the editor couldn’t tell what was real and what was staged.”

theboy1.jpg?zoom=1 - Exclusive: William Brent Bell Talks Creating The Boy

When I asked him if he’d been specifically looking for a doll horror movie to direct, Bell said, “Well, I was looking really hard to find or develop a ghost story, you know, like a creepy ghost story, elevated type of horror film. Or do something completely different and do something more science fiction. I have been doing things in the middle a little bit, and then I read the script for The Boy. It was perfect and unique, and it is not very often you read a horror script that was so well written the first time around. I read it, and I was sucked into the world. I could see the movie, and I loved the idea of dolls or creepy little boys in general, you know, like The Omen or something. I was totally into it, but as I started to approach that third act, I was like, ‘How is Stacey going to deal with this doll now? What is going to happen?’ And then when the twist happened, I was like, ‘Such a relief.’ That is so unique for me… I thought immediately: ‘I love this script.’ We were location scouting like a month later.”

As for how closely he collaborated with Stacey and whether the divisive ending was ever an issue, Bell said…

–Spoilers ahead–

“I’ve never seen Bad Ronald. Never heard of it before people started talking about the ending of The Boy.” What about the Klaus Kinski Crawlspace? Nope. “I guess to some degree, if I don’t know about those movies, it means probably a lot of the world doesn’t know about them so, you know, how many times is there a twist that the bad guy is the good guy, or how many times is somebody supposed to be dead and they come to life? I am not too worried about the comparisons. One of the big things was the entire story… [with] the marketing of the movie… everything was to really to try hard and do everything we could to avoid the idea of someone watching and that twist to even be in people’s minds, you know?  The nature of what was really going on… other than it being the doll watching her, we did everything we could to really elegantly keep the audience from ever having the opportunity to guess what was really going on, and I think it worked pretty well.”

Stacey Minear said in an interview with Cosmopolitan, “I think the reason I chose the ending I did was going back to the ’70s films that I loved so much. There’s this one called The Baby and another called Bad Ronald, and they’re sort of these strange horror movies more than straight-up scary ones. I think horror movies now are mainstream. They never get really weird; they’ll get really violent, but they’ll never get strange.”

If you like “strange” as much as we do, The Boy comes out on DVD and Blu-ray TODAY, May 10th, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

theboy bluray - Exclusive: William Brent Bell Talks Creating The Boy

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