Studio: STX Films
Director: William Brent Bell
Writer: Stacey Menear
Producer: Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Richard Wright, Eric Reid, Jim Wedaa, Roy Lee, Matt Berenson
Stars: Katie Holmes, Owain Yeoman, Christopher Convery, Ralph Ineson
To recover from a traumatic event, a family moves to a country manor where their son recovers a strange doll that holds a haunting influence over him.
Hindsight really is 20/20, isn¡¯t it? Now that I know what the Plain Jane alternative is, the big swing ¡°The Boy¡± took with its twist may not be the letdown I dubbed it in my 2016 review (here). When I think back on its left field preposterousness, I feel one corner of my mouth rise in a smirk, ready to snicker with bemusement that the movie dared to take a chance on a sharp turn so divisive. While we can argue whether it worked or not, at least we can agree the reveal made for a memorable moment, which is something you won¡¯t find in ¡°Brahms: The Boy II.¡±
I should probably insert a warning regarding spoilers for the first film, but I¡¯m going to assume you¡¯ve already seen it. ¡°Brahms: The Boy 2¡± assumes the same thing. The sequel purposefully plays with expectations regarding what the previous story established. Many of the new misdirects and little spooks only make sense if you¡¯re anticipating ¡°Brahms¡± will follow a similar path as its predecessor.
I should probably insert a second warning regarding spoilers for the sequel. In this case though, I¡¯m going to make another assumption that the grapevine already told you how ¡°The Boy II¡± flips the ¡°The Boy¡¯s¡± fiction. Otherwise, this review can end right here because there¡¯s so little to the movie, there isn¡¯t a whole lot else to talk about. Besides, spoilers aren¡¯t going to ruin ¡°Brahms¡± for you. The movie does a fine enough job of that on its own.
¡°The Boy¡± made its name by first being sold as a classic killer doll thriller. Then the rug gets violently pulled out from under the gothic ghost story by a revelation that there¡¯s nothing malevolent about the antique plaything at all. Rather, a murderous boy named Brahms became a deranged man while secretly living behind the walls of his family¡¯s mansion. Brahms drove his parents to suicide, convinced a woman the doll was alive by moving it when she wasn¡¯t looking looking, and savagely slaughtered her abusive ex-boyfriend too.
Following up on all of that, ¡°The Boy II¡± asks out loud, ¡°what if we disregard everything invented for the first film¡¯s mythology and just make the routine haunted house chiller we fooled everyone into thinking ¡®The Boy¡¯ would be?¡± ¡°The Boy¡± ended with human Brahms still alive and last seen repairing his broken doll. The doll with his name returns for this second chapter, but human Brahms curiously ends up nowhere to be found. Instead, ¡°The Boy II¡± throws those old threads away in favor of a revisionist story that says, ¡°nah, the doll really was cursed with supernatural sentience all along.¡±
A ¡°back to square one¡± switcher would be alright if it took this potential franchise in an intriguing direction. Plenty of horror properties can attribute longevity to risks that rewrote, rebooted, or otherwise waved a hand at backstories that became inconvenient. That kind of move doesn¡¯t fly for an IP only on its second installment, and whose mild success can be credited to the craziness its stewards now see fit to ignore.
The more predictable plotline ¡°Brahms: The Boy II¡± settles on starts with a home invasion. Looking to recover from this event that turns their son Jude into a traumatized mute, Liza and her husband Sean move to a quiet country cottage on the property where human Brahms¡¯ empty mansion still stands.
Sean serves perfunctory purposes as a typical horror movie husband. He openly questions his wife¡¯s sanity when she claims to see strange things, disappears to who knows where whenever setups don¡¯t need him (which is 99% of the time), and finally puts the truth together in time to race to the rescue in the last act.
Liza mostly stares in distress at bumps in the night or bolts upright in bed from frequent nightmares. I¡¯m not sure why such a rote role requires an actress of Katie Holmes¡¯ stature. However, I am sure her management team took an obscenity-filled tongue lashing for allowing her to appear in this movie.
One pinch of credit I will afford the script is that it establishes a believable reason for why these parents put up with their boy¡¯s unhealthy attachment to a toy with a clearly unsettling influence. After finding the Brahms doll, Jude refuses to part with it. But Jude also begins talking again. So even though they¡¯re distressed with their son¡¯s increasingly bizarre behavior, Liza and Sean have a tough time taking Brahms away since it simultaneously seems to be an effective coping tool. Jude¡¯s psychiatrist confirms this. Long after anyone else would have flung the doll in frustration, Liza and Sean are kind of stuck placating their son¡¯s concerning claims of Brahms being alive because they¡¯re desperate for him to get better.
From there though, ¡°The Boy II¡± grows disappointingly duller by the minute as it develops a suspense-less supernatural story with low stakes that result in just one death. I was tempted to award a barely passing grade and muse, ¡°eh, it¡¯s an average creepy kid/doll movie.¡± But excessive installation of tropes and shamefully lazy plotting demand derision out of respect for fright films that put forward infinitely more effort.
Creaking doors, tiptoeing around while calling someone¡¯s name, a dream within a dream, and search engine results delivering exposition, all of which are in ¡°Brahms,¡± are common clich¨¦s I can shrug my shoulders at. When a jump scare came courtesy of a sudden cut to a barking dog, I yawned. When a shadow passed in the foreground accompanied by an audio sting, I thought about what else I could be watching.
Then the pile-up of contrivances rips right through any reasonable level of tolerance for stomaching that much tripe. I can¡¯t decide which of these scenarios is more insulting to actual imagination: a conveniently chance meeting with a random man in a hospital (literally credited as ¡®Hospital Man¡¯) who fills in Sean on his house¡¯s history exactly when he needs to hear it, or a finale that takes place in front of a furnace.
In ¡°The Shining,¡± the boiler room mirrors Jack Torrance¡¯s madness. No one questions its placement or function in the narrative because it¡¯s also a metaphor the entire time. Here, the sudden appearance of a fire is a mere deus ex machina to rush screenwriter Stacey Menear to an easy ending. This is a scripter saying, ¡°let¡¯s set the conclusion in front of a furnace simply so there¡¯s a handy place to dispose of the doll.¡±
From the way each boring beat chains together, it becomes clear that ¡°Brahms¡± was intentionally structured to be as basic as possible. It¡¯s weird that the same team that delivered the first film doesn¡¯t seem invested in building off ¡°The Boy,¡± electing to obliterate that foundation and start over with something staler instead. Now they¡¯re just throwing tired ideas at a wall. Sadly, there isn¡¯t a kooky swerve lurking behind it to save the sequel with a flash of freshness.
Review Score: 40