Brahms: The Boy II, 2020.
Directed by William Brent Bell.
Starring Katie Holmes, Ralph Ineson, Owain Yeoman, and Christopher Convery.
After a family moves into the Heelshire Mansion, their young son soon makes friends with a life-like doll called Brahms.
The grand tradition of horror movie sequels dictates that, more often than not, they listlessly recycle that original success for as many go-arounds as audiences will still part with their money.
Yet 2016’s low-budget genre hit The Boy evidently wrote itself into a corner in that regard, given that the film’s single subversive and creative idea was the reveal that, in fact, the supposedly haunted porcelain doll named Brahms wasn’t really controlled by a malevolent spirit at all. Rather, the doll was being surreptitiously manipulated by the real adult Brahms, who secretly resided within the walls of Heelshire Mansion and crept out to do his bidding when nobody was around.
The first film ended with Brahms very much alive, so it’s immediately peculiar that the clunkily-titled follow-up, Brahms: The Boy II, more or less forgets this while effectively ret-conning the non-supernatural rug-pull and once again suggesting that, yes, the doll is indeed possessed.
It’s an especially incongruous decision given that this sequel was written and directed by the same team behind the original – Stacey Menear and William Brent Bell – so to see them discarding their own established mythology so intently doesn’t set a promising tone from the outset.
This is ultimately just one of several head-scratching creative calls in a movie that can’t ever bring itself to play fair with the viewer about its rules, cheaply holding viewers at arm’s length from them for the bulk of the lean 86-minute runtime.
It’s established early on in the film that Brahms can now move around of his own free will, yet Bell plays the conceit infuriatingly coyly, only ever showing the aftermath of Brahms’ movements, such that audiences are likely to feel short-changed by the patent lack of invention – if not outright laziness – on display.
If circling back to the killer doll premise suggested by the first two acts of the original movie was really the idea that writer and director were married to, why not go full Child’s Play and commit to a CGI doll running around murdering people? And before you consider it a budgetary decision to keep Brahms’ actions almost entirely off-screen, remember that last year’s Child’s Play reboot had the very same $10 million price tag.
Even accepting Brahms: The Boy II for what it is rather than what it isn’t, it’s a low-energy, generic horror jaunt through and through, focused on two parents (Katie Holmes and Owain Yeoman) who move into the Heelshire Mansion with their son Jude (Christopher Convery), who has been rendered mute since a home invasion several months prior. Jude soon enough unearths Brahms in the nearby woods, and before long, creepiness abounds.
Though Bell clearly knows his way around a camera as evidenced by the film’s surprisingly handsome camerawork, he has little idea of how to elevate the painfully formulaic set-pieces, which largely amount to a character slowly skulking around an area of the house before turning around to meet an obnoxious jump scare. Use of both loud tension chords and negative space are laughably unimaginative, and underline a film that will terrorise few beyond their mid-teen years.
If there’s any one aspect that’s beyond reproach, it’s surely the film’s performances, all of which are uniformly solid. Katie Holmes is especially convincing here as a concerned mother who becomes increasingly exasperated with indulging her son’s “friendship” with Brahms, and there’s also a fun supporting role for character actor Ralph Ineson as the mansion’s eccentric groundskeeper Joseph. The performers do their best to make the moldy dialogue work, and acquit themselves admirably enough as a result.
But it all comes down to the script, and even through its exceptionally silly climax, it is a film bereft of even the basic inspiration of the original’s expectation-defying finale. If a third entry into the franchise indeed materialises, as the ending of this one heavily implies it will, the setup is even more desperately lazy than this film’s shameless continuity-rejig.
Brahms: The Boy II moves fast enough not to bore and is anchored by the efforts of a quality cast it doesn’t deserve, but is otherwise proof perfect that horror sequels which deviate from the original can still find new ways to be cynical and idiotic.
Flippantly disregarding the previous film’s continuity while failing to establish its own clear internal logic, Brahms: The Boy II is sure to baffle fans and newcomers alike.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.