Ever watch a movie and sit in wonder thinking, “WHO is this movie for?!” That was the thought that thumped in my head like a broken record as I endured Brahms: The Boy II. It’s not that the movie is bad and dumb, though—make no mistake—it is both. It’s that it is filled with confounding choices, including the complete retconning of this frightful franchise’s creepy doll origin story.
First a bit of background:
2016’s The Boy was marketed as a haunted toy tale, in which a babysitter is tasked to care for a porcelain doll named Brahms, who has a lot of rules about how he likes things done. Breaking the rules results in strange and scary occurrences in the big house, so she plays nice. However, it’s ultimately unveiled that the doll is not a paranormal creature scampering around and causing mischief. All the spooky shenanigans were been done by a boy in the walls, or more accurately a twenty-something shut-in with a dangerous domineering streak. Okay, now forget all that, because Brahms: The Boy II says that doll was actually haunted (or maybe possessed?) and drove the shut-in (also named Brahms) to do his bidding. And—dun dun dun!—It wasn’t the first time, and he’s at it again.
The Boy’s screenwriter Stacey Menear and director William Brent Bell reteam for this senseless sequel. Though ignoring much of their established mythos, they once more center the horror story around a traumatized American woman in England, whose motherly instincts give her conflicted feelings about this troublesome toy boy. Katie Holmes stars as Liza, a wife and mother whose sanity is shaken when home invaders savagely beat her in front of her young son Jude (Christopher Convery). Cut to five months later, both are struggling to cope. Jude is suffering from selective mutism and so communicates through notes scribbled on his sketchpad. Liza has nightmares nightly, can’t stand to be touched, and hates to leave the house. So, her husband (Owain Yeoman) moves them to the country for some peace and quiet. Then, Jude finds a big porcelain doll buried in the woods (along with an entire wardrobe of formal attire), and things go from bad to much, much worse.
Jude won’t go anywhere without the doll, and insists that Brahms has rules they all must live by. At first, the parents play along, but Liz doesn’t trust that doll. She feels like she’s caught it staring at her and worries it encourages Jude’s more violent impulses. Meanwhile her husband, whose chief role is existing on the fringes of this story, worries maybe her suspicions are proof she’s mentally unsound. Nonetheless, Liz puts her foot down, declaring firmly to her son, “Your dad and I make the rules in this house, not the doll!”
That is the level the dialogue is working on. This is meant to play as a tense moment, because we know Brahms is “real” and has little patience for defiance. However, it’s inherently absurd because a grown woman is screaming at a still and stone-faced doll that is dressed like a baby butler. This isn’t Child’s Play. We won’t be shown a knife-wielding doll causing chaos with a wide smile and haunting guffaw. Brahms will move on camera, but only slightly, a turned head here and a sliding eye there. Every time it made me laugh.
To the filmmakers’ credit, Brahms’ design isn’t ludicrously sinister-looking like the doll of Annabelle, which is so hideous you wonder why anyone would have it in their home. Brahms is too far in the other direction, too average to be all that unnerving. When it sits out of focus in the background of shots, the doll might spark some suspense as we wonder if it will move. But Bell should have taken a lesson from Jaws, and only sparingly shown close-ups of his monster. Instead, the mundaneness of Brahms becomes increasingly hilarious as one close-up after another jumps across the big screen, frequently with an assisting sting of spooooooky string instrumentals. We’re meant to be shuddering in our seats, but I was giggling because Brahms is about as scary as a bar of soap and just as expressive.
In a twisted awe, I marveled at the choices Menear and Bell made. Their first collaboration was a modest hit. I guess you can’t do the “boy in the wall” twist a second time, even if that “boy” survived the first film. So, drop the boy, steal his name, dump the backstory bits that don’t fit, snatch some minor star power, and lean into the creepy doll shtick that sold audiences on the first film. Add in a bit of animal cruelty, an ambiguous yet convoluted backstory, and some chaste gore as a little treat! Sure, the body count is comically low, the tension is as taut as a limp noodle, and the dialogue is so bland it’s a wonder the actors don’t choke on it, but…nope. That’s all I got.
So who is this movie for? Maybe fans of the first film who hated the final twist? With its PG-13 rating, perhaps it’s intended to tantalize teens, specifically teens who haven’t seen many psychological thrillers, killer doll tales, or haunted horror. Or maybe it is for people like me, who go in knowing there is no way a sequel to a mediocre movie like The Boy will be all that scary or satisfying. That it’s there and deliciously dumb—even if unintentionally—is enough. To be clear, this movie is not so bad that it’s good. Still, its badness is amusing and engaging enough to be a brief escape from the outside world. Which is also dumb but also much, much scarier.
Brahms: The Boy II is a real movie that is actually now in theaters.
Header Image Source: STX Entertainment