When I first rented Robert the Doll, I hoped it was The Asylum’s Mockbuster of The Boy. I rented it blindly from Redbox, so I didn’t see that it wasn’t an Asylum film until it came out of the box. (How many people can say that they were disappointed they didn’t rent an Asylum film?) Instead, Robert the Doll is another company’s attempt at cashing in on the theatrical release of The Boy, and they don’t do it with nearly the same fun or flair that The Asylum manages.
Robert the Doll is the “true story” – yes, it really says that it’s based on true events at the start of the film – of a living, evil doll that kills people it doesn’t like. We find out as the story progresses that it houses the spirit of a young boy who was killed by his father, so he has a serious disdain for the parental units of a household. Our story is focused on one family in particular. This family decides they need to fire their old nanny because she is going senile. On her last day, she leaves Robert with the son as a gift, and has the ominous warning that the family will be sorry for firing her.
Shortly after, strange noises are heard, and bad things start happening. Jenny, the matriarch, believes that the doll is real, but her husband, Paul, is unable to buy in because of her history with hearing voices (which she now takes medicine for, referenced at least a dozen times throughout the film). The bad part about Robert the Doll is that it never gives the audience a mystery. There is no question whether or not the doll is really evil because the very opening scene shows him turning his head by himself. That moment, in the short introduction of the film, kills any deeper mystery the film may have been able to create otherwise. That, frankly, is the biggest flaw in the film.
A major problem with the script is that the movie could be retitled The Bickering Couple and no one would bat an eye. The vast majority of the film is spent watching the Paul and Jenny bitch back and forth about this and that, usually about her past mental issues, or how Paul is never around anymore. It makes for an utterly boring experience. So much so that I had a hard time caring when we finally got to the creepy doll moments.
The acting in Robert the Doll was surprisingly strong by most of the cast. The young boy does a fine job, but it’s not really about him. It is about the parents. Lee Bane is great as Paul. He has a clear internal struggle on how to help his family, and that always come across here. Suzie Frances Garton as Jenny is mostly good, but once the emotional scenes crank up, she starts becoming less believable. It’s a difficult script for her, though, and with only allusions to what happened to her character previously, she has to walk a fine line, and that would difficult for any actor. The nanny character is way too over the top, and doesn’t seem to fit in with the style that the rest of the cast is creating for the film.
I watched The Boy over the weekend, and was hoping Robert the Doll would be another gem in the creepy doll genre (one of my favorites). Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. The editing is amateurish, and it really slows down the pace of the film. Writer/director Andrew Jones has a lot of films under his belt, but there is something missing here. One of his upcoming films is The Curse of Robert the Doll, a sequel to this film. I’d be interested in watching this sequel because it might follow a different family, which could be more entertaining, but I’m not rushing out to buy it.
The fact of the matter is that I would have a hard time recommending Robert the Doll at all. It’s much too slow for its own good, lacks any mystery, and spends too much time focusing on the deteriorating relationship of the main couple instead of the doll itself, of which we learn very little about throughout. See The Boy in theatres, and just skip Robert the Doll entirely.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.