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Friday, February 21, 2020

Brahms: The Boy II

WRITER'S NOTE: The following review will contain ending spoilers to the film The Boy, as it's impossible to talk about this sequel without diving into spoiler territory about the first.

The awkwardly-titled Brahms: The Boy II is the follow up no one was asking for to the early January 2016 horror film original.  Maybe it's because they knew that nobody had much expectation for this that director William Brent Bell and screenwriter Stacey Menear (both of whom worked on the original) have decided to pretty much forego the revelations during the ending of the last movie, and go in a different direction.  Despite this shake up, the sequel ends up being just as mediocre and forgettable as the first.

If you don't remember or never saw the events that came before, it was about an elderly couple who lived alone in a sprawling mansion with a porcelain doll of a little boy that they called Brahms, and acted as if it were their son, who had died years prior.  They hired a young woman to look after their "son" when they had to go away, and that movie tried to build tension with the woman slowly coming to believe that the doll was somehow alive, as it seemed to be moving about on its own, and taking things that she would leave behind.  It all turned out to be a red herring, as the truth was the son of the elderly couple was still alive, was living in the walls and crawlspaces of the house, and had been messing with her the entire time.  The doll was smashed to pieces during the climax, and we got a standard slasher movie ending where the adult Brahms went mad, and tried to murder the young woman and her love interest.

The sequel makes a reference or two to these events, but other than that, pretty much decides to go in its own direction.  This time around, the doll (which we saw was being rebuilt in the final scene of the first movie) is very much alive, and is the source of evil and problems for an unfortunate family who move into a house that happens to be next door to the house where the previous movie happened.  If the last film went to great lengths to fool us into thinking the doll was moving about the house on its own, this time, it pretty much throws the fact in our faces that the doll's head and eyes are moving and following its new human family.  Turns out the little figure is under the control of an evil spirit, and can make people commit horrendous murders at its will.  You would think that this new supernatural angle could lead to some interesting ideas, but the film moves at a glacial pace, and nothing largely happens for a majority of its 86 minutes.

The human characters this time are a family who have been reeling and trying to put the pieces together after a home invasion robbery, which is clumsily shot and edited during the film's opening moments.  Since then, the wife and mother Liza (Katie Holmes) has been plagued with nightmares of the attack, while their young son Jude (Christopher Convery) has been rendered mute from fear, and can only communicate by writing on a notepad.  Husband and father Sean (Owain Yeoman) feels the family needs a change of scenery, so they move out to a house in the middle of the woods that, as I mentioned, happens to be right next door to the abandoned mansion where the action was set last time.  Little Jude finds the Brahms doll buried in the dirt while out on a nature walk, and immediately becomes obsessed with the toy.  He carries it wherever he goes, seems to have secret conversations with it, and keeps on referring to a list of rules that the family must abide by in order to keep Brahms happy.

The problems arise almost as soon as they invite the creepy doll into their home.  The son becomes even more withdrawn, and starts drawing violent images in his notebook, claiming that Brahms told him to do it.  He even starts dressing up like his new porcelain friend.  As for Liza, she's still suffering from paranoia after the home invasion incident, and now is even more spooked when she thinks she sees Brahms' head following her.  I can see this being creepy, but the events unfold so slowly and with such little urgency that it feels like we spend a majority of the time waiting for something to happen.  There's a suspicious shotgun-toting neighbor named Joseph (Ralph Ineson) and a dog who seems to know that something is not right about Brahms, but they don't add much. We're able to pick up early on that this movie is going for an evil doll angle this time around, but it does next to nothing with this idea, so we're only left wondering why it bothered to introduce this change in the first place.

Brahms: The Boy II obviously owes a huge debt to 1988's original Child's Play film, as both movies deal with a child who shares a lot of secrets with his creepy new toy that is clearly evil from the beginning, and the boy's mother slowly piecing the truth together.  But whereas that earlier movie had a lot of fun with its premise and gave us a truly memorable villain who would carry on for over 30 years, this one simply seems stalled.  Most of the frights are of the "it's only a dream" variety, to the point that we just start to wait for the moment when Katie Holmes will suddenly find herself sitting up in bed with a gasp.  Either that, or we get shots of Brahms just barely moving, which aren't enough to raise any tension.  We simply wait for the inevitable, and when it finally comes, it wasn't worth the time it took to arrive.

The only praise I can give this is that it's not quite as terrible as some of the other horror films I've seen so far this year, though I don't know if claiming you're better than Fantasy Island, The Turning, or The Grudge is something to shout about.  When it comes to movies about spooky dolls, Brahms just doesn't try hard enough to leave any sort of impression.

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