Brahms: The Boy II and all the images you see in this review are owned by STX Entertainment
Directed by William Brent Bell
You’re unlikely to find a bigger cheerleader for The Boy than me, so when the trailers started coming out for this sequel four years after everyone else had forgotten about it AND it looked like a truly awful mess, well let’s just say that my spirits weren’t very high for this. Seriously, that bit where Katie Holmes makes a face in the trailer and they play the clichéd horror movie sting is one of the most embarrassing things I’ve seen in something allegedly trying to sell you on a movie, and it was so disappointing to see how little they seemed to care about this considering just how good the first one was! I guess getting excited for horror sequels is in and of itself a fool’s errand, but who knows what it’ll REALLY be like before we get a chance to see it. Maybe there are some hidden depths to this that the studio was scared to give away in the trailers, much like the first film, and this is truly worth successor! Yeah, I’m doubtful as well but let’s find out!!
Taking place sometime after the events of the first film, we follow Liza (Katie Holmes) and her son Jude (Christopher Convery) who had a traumatic experience with a break in; leaving her with headaches and night terrors while Jude became mute and now communicates with a notebook. In an effort to try and get them past this, the father and husband Sean (Owain Yeoman) decides to take them on a trip to someplace out in the country where they can get away from it all and reconnect as a family! As it just so happens however, the place they decide to stay in is a hereto unknown guest house (ugh…) of the mansion from the first film, and said mansion has fallen into disrepair under the new owner Joseph (Ralph Ineson) who’s been trying to fix it up but can only do so much as one guy. Of course, Jude ends up finding the Brahms doll somewhere and IMMEDIATELY attaches himself to it which seems to at least be doing a good job of opening him up a bit, but it comes with other weird behaviors and a set of rules that must be followed or else the doll will get very cross with them. Liza’s naturally worried about all this and isn’t helped by her ghastly nightmares of the break in, but Sean isn’t exactly convinced the doll is evil (just a little bit creepy) and believes that Liza is overacting despite the many strange things that start to happen around the guesthouse and Jude’s increasingly bizarre behavior. Is there some secret to the doll that wasn’t in the last film that Liza must uncover in this one? Is Jude being manipulated by whatever it was in the last film, or is there something else that’s terrifying this family? I’m not even sure why they’re friends to be honest. Doesn’t seem like they’d have a lot in common.
The best thing I can say about this movie is that it’s SLIGHTLY better than the trailers make it out to be. Then again, The Boy was like FIFTY times better than its trailers indicated, so even on THAT front it comes up woefully short of its predecessor. Simply put, on its own it’s a bad horror film and as a sequel to The Boy it’s an utter travesty to behold. I’m trying to think of a sequel in recent memory that has bothered me as much as this one, and I’m simply coming up blank; even counting Batman v Superman. As bad as that movie is, at least it seems like it takes place within the same universe and doesn’t have utter contempt for what came before it! I really don’t know who this movie is for because it certainly isn’t for fans of the first film, and yet there’s no denying that this movie relies on your knowledge of the events of that film to give this any degree of meaning no matter what nonsense the Wikipedia page says about this being a “stand-alone sequel”. It’s just a terrible exercise in cynicism from top to bottom, and frankly the only reason I don’t hate it even more than I do right now is that we’ve gotten some TRULY awful horror films in the first few weeks of 2020 that this manages to be ever so slightly better than. I doubt that’s a quote they’ll put on the poster and yet I still bet it’s one of the more positive things that’ll be said about it.
Before we get into how terrible this movie is, let’s AT LEAST do a bit of damning with faint praise to give it something of a fair shake. The bizarre protestations about this being a stand-alone sequel are not entirely inexplicable because as it turns out this would work a LITTLE bit better as a spooky doll film than as a sequel to The Boy. To that end I think the cast does a decent job with what little they are given and there’s at least a little bit of a genuine arc to the characters, or at least the start of one anyway. What made the first movie work was that it used the tropes of a spooky doll movie to tell a very human story about trauma, loss, and abuse, and it’s clear that the filmmakers at least remembered that much when making this one. That traumatic event that Katie Holmes goes through at the beginning of the movie is a bit sensationalistic but her behavior afterwards is at least well-acted and I really liked Owain Yeoman as the dad trying to keep everything together in the wake of everything that happened. How that ends up gelling with the spooky doll stuff is something we’ll get to soon enough, but for what it’s worth I could see these characters and the initial setup working in a better movie. Other than that, the cinematography is hit and miss with some truly ludicrous moment peppered throughout, but for the most part it manages to reach the dizzying heights of Just Fine; proving that there was some talent behind this dumpster fire of a movie, but not enough to make it more than that.
Now that we’re done playing Mr. Nice Guy, let’s get into the mean of the problem here which is the dull as dishwater narrative that they came up with. I praised the traumatic scene that Katie Holmes went through at the beginning of the movie, but in contrast to the first film, the trauma that the character goes through doesn’t INFORM the horror scenes; it’s an excuse for them. Unlike Greta who’s decisions throughout the movie were motivated by her past, Liza has a fairly straightforward story in here that is constantly being interrupted by hallucinations of men trying to attack her; none of which connects to the situation she’s in with the creepy doll and her son’s growing erratic behavior. Everything is just cobbled together rather than the themes and ideas being woven into each other; all of which makes this feel like a rushed sequel stitched into being from the pages of many bad horror movie scripts, only the film came out four years after the first one and they have the same writer and director on board, so your guess is as good as mine as to what the heck happened here! It’s not even the least bit scary which you’d hope would be a given since this is a HORROR movie, but it simply doesn’t have enough of an emotional core to make you grab onto the characters and end up caring about what happens to them. Except for the dad! That guy was pretty cool, but he also has almost nothing to do in the movie; something I’m sure he’s glad to have as an asterisk on his resumé.
So on top of being a film that is far lesser than its predecessor on its own merits as a horror film, it also fails to be an enjoyable sequel to said predecessor, and this is where we’ll start getting into spoilers about that film as well as this new one, so turn back now if you don’t want to hear anything else.
We good? Alright, so the big narrative difference between the first one and this is that the big twist of the original film (the one that made it such a genuinely enjoyable surprise) was that the events were NOT supernatural and yet the ones in this film somehow are. Without going too much into it because I REALLY recommend seeing The Boy if you haven’t already, the doll ended up being a Red Herring for something else going on which was a brilliant subversion of the spooky doll genre of films and really led to a gut punch as far as the themes it was marginally about up to that point. In this one, they completely contradict that by putting the doll at the forefront and shoving in supernatural elements where they were intentionally left out before; making it so that I guess the doll WAS responsible for what was going on in the first film despite that absolutely not being the case. It’s such a bizarre change to make as the first movie engaged with interesting ideas about how people cope with trauma and the basic underpinnings of ghost stories themselves, while this one has no such creative verve; no ideas in its head other than ones we’ve seen from other movies in the past. It’d be like making a sequel to Blazing Saddles that’s a third rate Searcher’s knockoff, or if that recent Blair Witch movie claimed to be a sequel to Robert Eggers’s The Witch. We’ve lost all semblances of nuance and grace for cheap run of the mill horror nonsense and are dragging a good movie’s name in the mud to do so. There’s also no resolution to the characters of the previous film like Greta and Malcolm with the only consistent element being the doll and parts of the setting; none of which feel particularly informative of the events of this film considering just how far they stray from its original roots.
Perhaps my enjoyment of the first film has overly colored my impression of this one and I’m sure that plenty of critics out there won’t see much of a difference between the two films, but for what it’s worth this is WAY worse than even the least charitable review of the first film. Everything that I enjoyed about that first film has been stripped away either to replace it with an inferior version or out of some misguided attempt at changing up the formula to make it more of a traditional spooky doll film. There are so many better examples of that genre out there (that The Boy did a great job of subverting), so there’s absolutely no reason to even bother with this film; either as a fan of the original or someone just looking for another horror movie. Skip this movie and wait for a GOOD horror movie to come out this year. They can’t hide forever, darn it! SOMETHING’S gotta be halfway decent soon enough or else this is going to be a rough year for the genre, at least until that Candyman movie comes out from Jordan Peele; and on the off chance that STX is thinking of doing a The Boy 3, how about making one that isn’t ashamed to be a part of this series? Is that too much to ask!?