Synopsis – After a family moves into a house near the Heelshire Mansion, their young son soon makes friends with a life-like doll called Brahms.
My Take – If you thought Chucky and Annabelle were going to be the only killer dolls with supernatural hi-jinks, you are wrong, as STX Entertainment, director William Brent Bell and writer Stacey Menear sincerely seem to believe their creation, Brahms, who despite being dressed in a neat suit or colorful jumper, does all manner of unspeakable things, like setting house rules, will be leading the bandwagon for years to come.
Released back in 2016, director William Brent Bell‘s film, The Boy, wasn’t a great film by any means, and felt more like an Annabelle rip off at first. That is, until it pulled the twist in its last act, which revealed that the creepy boy-doll named Brahms, who was meant to replace an aging couple’s dead son, was actually just a normal doll, and all the seemingly supernatural happenings that were occurring around the film’s lead Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan) were actually carried out by the still-alive son, who for the past twenty years has been living in the walls of their mansion.
The twist was genuinely compelling enough to lift the rather forgettable film, resulting in a $64.1 million run at the box office on a budget out of just $10 million, hereby guaranteeing a sequel. Now, four years later, William Brent Bell is back as the director and so is that damn doll, in a sequel nobody asked for.
However, this time around, in order to compete in The Conjuring Universe dominated market, director William Brent Bell and writer Stacey Menear have tweaked this supposed stand-alone sequel by replacing the slasher elements of its predecessor with a straight up supernatural factor surrounding the doll, hoping to feed off future sequels and spin-offs with the concept.
But, like anyone would have guessed, it doesn’t work one bit, even though it uses every trick in the book. Whilst it’s not a flat out awful film, it’s just painfully generic and dull. It has some moments of atmosphere but usually it’s filled with annoying jump scares which doesn’t work whatsoever. Marking this one as another failure for this year’s horror genre.
Following the events of the last film, the story follows Liza (Katie Holmes), who lives a good yet busy life in the city with her workaholic husband, Sean (Owain Yeoman) and their young son, Jude (Christopher Convery), which gets disrupted when Liza becomes a victim to a violent home invasion, leaving Jude traumatized by the event. Now non-verbal, communicating only through writing, Jude’s behavior disturbs Sean, who decides to relocate his family to a guest house in the woods, away from the city, hoping to give a rattled Liza a chance to settle her fears.
The trip starts off great, but as the family begins to explore the area, they discover the now abandoned Heelshire mansion, and shortly after, Jude comes across the Brahms doll buried deep near the house. Considering the doll as the much needed emotional companion Jude requires, both Liza and Sean agree to keep him.
However, things begin to get weird when Jude starts talking to Brahms, and even begins dressing like him. Jude even presents both Liza and Sean a list of rules from Brahms, which he insists they follow. Unnerved by such companionship, Liza tries to get to the bottom of Brahms’s history, and becomes especially concerned when Jude starts drawing colorful photos of murdering his parents.
To be honest, the film is never miserable, just woefully misguided when it comes to finding things to rile it up, as director William Brent Bell eschews cleverness to secure a simple sequel, trading domestic unease for a ghost story of sorts, which just doesn’t mesh with the vibe of the original endeavor. The film starts off well enough, with some decent moments of suspense during the robbery, and sets up plenty of conflict between our three main characters.
However, the biggest issue with the film is how it takes everything that made its predecessor stand out and throws it all out of the window. To take the approach that something supernatural was real all along is arguably just as creepy, if not more so. The Boy was a bait and switch exercise that was amplified by the reveal of Brahms living in the wall. There was no supernatural element at all, the horror was in something real that appeared supernatural. That established plot is completely abandoned this time around. Instead, this time it is far too reliant on the supernatural to glaze over plot holes and render character motivations useless.
It just feels like lazy writing and a detraction from its predecessor. It’s a basic brew of PG-13 horror, with a little aside of investigation thrown into the mix, as Liza researches Brahms’s history thanks to a production number stamped on his foot, learning what the doll has been up to for the last century. Obviously, this revelation gives the film a chance to detail Brahms’s reign of terror for additional films, but more effort should have gone in working on this film itself.
Although there are a few creepy scenes, the film relies too heavily on telegraphed jump scares. Simplistic scares, loud shrieks representing Liza’s nightmares, suspicious atmosphere, spookiness etc. are heavily overplayed here. After the first five of these scares or so, you get bored and can spot them coming from a mile away. Brahms not only tortures a dog belonging to Joseph (Ralph Ineson), a random character, but also unleashes painful horrors on children. This is no mystery horror thriller even given the fact that there’s an attempt to sidestep the viewer with some clumsy focus on Liza’s traumatic experience and its possible outcomes.
Director William Brent Bell, who has also helmed The Devil Inside (2012), one of the worst horror films of the decade, hasn’t really grown as a filmmaker. If anything, he’s just riffing on the style he established in the first film, with even less of a hook this time around. There are kernels of good ideas peppered about: A brief prank at the beginning has a decent call-back a few minutes later; but it’s overall very flat and labored, with short connective scenes feeling agonizingly long, even as the film descends into madness.
The performances aren’t also up to the mark. Katie Holmes gives a serviceable performance as a traumatized mother, Christopher Convery and Owain Yeoman don’t get a lot to do, while Ralph Ineson, easily the most talented of the lot, hams it up like never before. On the whole, ‘Brahms: The Boy II’ is a misguided horror sequel which disregards its original and overdoes it with poor scares.
Directed – William Brent Bell
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 86 minutes