Feature: The Boy

An American nanny is shocked that her new English family’s boy is actually a life-sized doll. After violating a list of strict rules, disturbing events make her believe that the doll is really alive.

“I wanted to make a classic haunted-house story,” says writer-director, William Brent 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 resume 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 producer Gary 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.”

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