Jared Kushner is, by most accounts, a bad guy. He’s a slumlord, his business ethics have been questioned, and now he’s a key advisor/son-in-law to President Trump. He also looks exactly like the evil doll from the mediocre horror film The Boy, which definitely means something, I think?
Now, I’m willing to admit this may not be a reference that immediately rings a bell with you. The Boy was released in theaters on January 22, 2016 and ended up making almost $36 million domestically on a $10 million budget. In other words, it was just kind of your standard genre filler that quietly comes and goes. Not a huge flop, but not a franchise-starter either.
The plot follows Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan), an American who moves to the UK for a nanny job on a family’s massive estate. She arrives to find a very strict and stereotypically British elderly couple, their charming delivery driver/potential love interest Malcolm (Rupert Evans) and, brace yourself, their son, a creepy-looking doll (Jared Kushner).
The doll’s name is Brahms, and he has been serving as the couple’s stand-in “son” for decades. We’re given a brief backstory via Malcolm monologue followed by a slow pan out from a headstone: Brahms, whom we’re told was always a weird little guy, got caught in a fire and didn’t make it out. This being a mediocre horror film, Greta never once seems to seriously think that maybeeee she shouldn’t take this job, an omission which is later justified via a brief allusion to her troubled past. (Back in America, Greta was in an abusive relationship with a man named Cory. She got pregnant, he promised he’d change and didn’t, beats her, and Greta to loses the child. She fills in that loss with a possessed doll who probably killed a little girl.)
The “parents” are going on a “vacation,” so they give Greta a Gremlins-esque list of rules Brahms requires every day: kisses before bed, snacks throughout the day, no “guests” staying overnight, and so on. Then the parents depart and you can probably guess where the plot goes from here. Doll-Brahms starts showing up in random places and stealing things—classic possessed-doll flick stuff. To drive the point home, there’s a whole lot of slow zooms in on doll-Kushner’s face as creepy music swells — very similar to all the “arty” photos of real boy-Kushner for some reason being the only person in focus.
After a day or so of now strictly following Brahms’s list of wants, Cory shows up and demands Greta comes back home with him. Greta whispers for Brahms to help, Cory eventually freaks out, smashes the doll and, SURPRISE, a fully grown man breaks out of a mirror with a Brahms-doll mask on, killing Cory with a shard of the broken doll. Spooky stuff?
The entire movie, to this point, has been one elaborate misdirection. This is not a good flick; however, it is an apt comparison for our current world. I contend we are all living in a reverse The Boy, with the unknowable doll (Kushner) hidden behind the walls, while the crazy wall man is very much front and center (guess who?! Trump. It’s Trump).
Horror films, at their best, tap into some kind of widespread fear or anxiety. The Boy sort of does that. When the movie first began filming in March of 2015, Donald Trump was still months away from announcing his presidential candidacy. Back then, I had no idea who Jared Kushner was; I’d wager most people didn’t. Yet, when the creators of the film sat down to design the Brahms doll—the linchpin of their entire horror film—who had to communicate evil and menace in countless close-ups, they settled on a dead ringer for Jared Kushner. The doll doesn’t even look like a child, really, it just resembles a shrunken-down Kushner in every aspect.
Everything about the doll and Kushner, both appearance and background-wise, communicates this fear of privilege going unchecked. If you were to open an illustrated dictionary to “spoiled wealthy males” you’d see an image of either Kushner or the Brahms doll, and I bet you wouldn’t be able to tell which one was the real boy. Consider how Brahms was able to get away with murder, burn a house down like it’s a write-off, and somehow convince his parents into hiding him in the walls/bending to his every need.
Kushner, on the other hand, had his dad buy his way into Harvard, inherited all his wealth (also from his dad, who spent time in federal prison for a laundry list of bad behavior, including trying to frame his brother-in-law by hiring a prostitute — it’s a long story), and appears to have generally done a bad job managing it to this point. Today, he’s charged with bringing peace to the Middle East, solving the Opioid crisis, generally reforming the whole government/criminal justice system, and so much more.
At the beginning of The Boy, the to-do-list associated with doll-Brahms comes off as necessary steps to keep an angry spirit in check. Instead, it’s an example of a petty exertion of power over another. The Brahms who’s been hiding in the walls wants to be treated as a child, sure, but he also wants his parents (whose vacation ends up being them walking into a lake with rocks in their pockets, which seems unnecessary — just move away!) and Greta to know that this world, inside his house, revolves completely around his wants and needs. Displease him, and your abusive ex will end up dead. Which doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, but this is a bad movie with an iffy moral compass, and murder is never really a great thing.
Sounds a lot like Trump and his weird power fetish to me! The handshakes, making Chris Christie go get him McDonalds, the intelligence reports that require his name frequently interspersed throughout to hold his attention and the whole matter of that loyalty pledge. All petty exertions of power over others, similar to his name being plastered all big and gold on the sides of buildings. Who could have seen this coming?!
So, here we are, living through a mediocre horror film. In an odd way, however, this makes me feel somewhat better. When Trump first managed to win the presidency (and when Kushner made the cover of Forbes for apparently making it all possible), there was a lot of palpable fear and grief. It was easy to see this as the birth of a evil empire, ready to carry out its self-serving and destructive policies.
There’s been some of that — the travel ban, Paris Agreement, rolling back protections for transgender students. But there’s also been tremendous pushback. What has truly defined the past several months more than anything else isn’t evil scheming, it’s gross incompetence and sheer stupidity. Like The Boy, this is not a well-written or logical script. The movie may have tapped into a coming fear of most Americans — Jared Kushner’s unknowable self and Trump’s erratic, narcissistic behavior — but in the end, it’s just not that scary.
At the end of the film, after Cole is murdered, Greta and Malcolm make a break for it. Brahms finds them, and knocks Malcolm unconscious. Greta manages to get away but after thinking about it, comes back to save Malcolm. She tricks Brahms into letting her tuck him into bed, and once he’s all snug and cozy, he goes in for a gross kiss. Seizing the moment, Greta stabs him in the chest with a screwdriver. There’s a struggle, but eventually she manages to stab him again. Greta revives Malcolm and they escape, driving off into a happier future. Yay! Of course, the final shot shows the hand of the still-alive Brahms putting together the broken pieces of his doll-self. You just can’t beat Brahms/evil.
The Boy was pretty much universally panned by critics and disliked by the public — it had a 38% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As far as I can tell, there are no plans for a sequel, despite film’s best efforts. Trump however, whose approval rating hovers around 39%, has already begun raising funds for his reelection campaign. Now that’s scary.