Written by: Stacey Menear
Directed by: William Brent Bell
Starring: Katie Holmes, Owain Yeoman, and Christopher Convery
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
He's made a friend.
2016ís The Boy was not the most completely riveting experience, but it did boast a last-minute twist that at least made it worthwhile. Say what you want about its first 70 minutes or so: theyíre mostly a pretty dull rendition of the familiar haunted house/creepy doll routine. Those last 20 minutes, though, when we find out that ďhaunted dollĒ Brahms is actually a big, burly, psychotic motherfucker hiding within the walls of the house? We could use more of that weird, unruly energy from studio horror movies, so I was very much there for it. And even if The Boy didnít seem like enough of a resounding critical or box office hit to inspire a sequel, the filmmakers at least left themselves an obvious avenue for a pretty cool follow-up, one that would presumably feel a little bit different from the original film. With Brahms: The Boys II, William Brent Bell and company had the unique opportunity to craft a sequel that might transcend the originalís sub-genre, one that might have traded out those haunted house parlor tricks for some good-old fashioned slasher mayhem.
Or, it turns out, they could just not do that at all. Instead, they're content to deliver a baffling follow-up that skirts around its predecessorís reveal, meaning Brahms is exactly the movie The Boy feigned at until its wild climax rescued it from being completely forgettable. No such tricks lurk within the walls of Brahms: this one is just a dull little haunted house movie that has the unfortunate side effect of squandering what could have been a neat little franchise.
Unfolding some vague time after the events of the first film, Brahms introduces us to a new set of victóer, protagonists in Liza (Katie Holmes), Sean (Owain Yeoman), and their young son Jude (Christopher Convery), a family whose idyllic world is shattered following a horrific home invasion. Both Liza and Jude experience PTSD from the event: she has recurring nightmares and he goes mute, leaving the desperate Sean to suggest a getaway to the rural countryside. They find a nice spot in a quiet little cottage that was once a guest home to the now abandoned Heelshire estate, where only shifty groundskeeper Joe (Ralph Ineson) prowls the area to keep away curious intruders. On their first walk into the woods, the family encounters both Joe and a half-buried doll that comes with a very specific set of instructions. Taken with his discovery, Jude decides to take Brahms home and the two become fast friends in a way that disturbs Liza, who begins to suspect something is amiss with the doll.
Anyone familiar with the first film, however, finds themselves eagerly anticipating the moment when Liza will discover the truth: that the doll is just a harbinger for the real Brahms, the hulking man-child whoís surely just waiting to bash in some skulls once his charade is up again. An unnerving amount of time begins to pass, though, with Liza and Sean remaining oblivious that something is definitely off with Brahms. Maybe Bell is really just wanting to toy with the dramatic irony at work, you reassure yourself. Surely, weíre not about to sit through another entire movie of this nonsense where weíre supposed to pretend to believe Brahms is a haunted doll instead of a real-ass psycho killer. You especially assume this wonít happen because the same creative team from the first movie has returned here, and itís hard to imagine theyíd be interested in just retracing their own steps.
Imagine the disappointment, then, when Bell and company do just that. Not only do they play up the supernatural angle again, but they really lean into it here in a puzzling manner that effectively renders the first movieís reveal moot. They donít ignore itóthere are two references to ďthe boy who lived in the wallsĒóbut they also donít confront it either. Rather, they introduce an needlessly complicated mythology that handwaves the flesh-and-blood Brahms out of the picture, allowing The Boy II to become something like a British Amityville riff where the estate has always been haunted, with the incident involving the young Brahms being one of several ghastly horrors that have unfolded within its walls. Maybe everyone involved thought itíd be clever to essentially do the reverse of The Boy: ďthis time, everyone expects a real killer, so letís do a malevolent spirit instead!Ē
Whatever the reasoning, it amounts to disappointment because the original twist was actually pretty clever. In a landscape crowded with the likes of Annabelle, The Conjuring, and their various imitators, The Boy dared to deploy a bait-and-switch that separated it from the pack. Doing the exact opposite results in, well, the exact opposite: good luck remembering much of anything about The Boy II outside of this weird, unnecessarily convoluted retconning of the one thing that absolutely worked about its predecessor. Nothing about it works, least of all the way it muddies the waters in its clumsy attempt to forge a new mythology on top of the existing story. If Iím understanding things correctly, the doll still refers to itself as Brahms even though the real Brahms apparently did die at the end of the first movie; I am not sure you ever want any confusion over who your title character refers to, so this is a bold choice.
Itís the only thing that can even cheekily be considered bold here, too. Iíd like to say Iím just getting hung up on a dumb plot decision and that The Boy II at least has something else going for it, but Iím hard-pressed to think of anything thatís truly remarkable. Convery makes for a creepy enough kid once Brahms (or whatever the hell the spiritís name is) begins to work his influence on Jude, even if the script resorts to the same tired routine of giving him a sullen demeanor and scrawling unsettling drawings involving dead animals and family members. There is a brief moment when it looks like this might pay off with an intense confrontation between Jude and his twerp of a cousin that comes to visit, but even this fizzles out pretty tepidly. Itís not often you find yourself thinking a movie should kill off a kid, but, friends, a movie as dull and rote as Brahms drives your brain to weird places.
Iíd also like to give it credit for casting Holmes and Ineson, even if it doesnít give either of them much to do beyond play a couple of stock characters. Both are definitely invested and bring a natural gravitas to these meager roles, but The Boy II never allows you to shake the feeling that they deserve better. DP Karl Walter Lindenlaub also admirably steps in for the legendary Daniel Pearl and does a fine job of replicating the original filmís moody, pastoral gothic aesthetic. Like its predecessor, Brahms has long stretches without much incident, leaving Lindenlaub to create tension through lingering shots of landscapes and the doll. Not that it works, exactly, but itís also not his fault that nothing about this movie is particularly interesting, much less scary. Once it completely embraces its supernatural bent, itís easy to prepare for the usual assortment of cheap jolts, dream-within-dream fake-outs, and hideous effects work it'll subject you to. Are you tired of that lame bit where a haunted person/object opens its mouth to fling a bunch of nondescript CGI junk in your face? The folks involved with The Boy II sure hope not.
You know, the last thing I ever expected was to get worked up over a sequel to The Boy, a movie I basically shrugged off after tipping my cap to it for its wicked ending. But damnit, Iím nothing if not a fiend for franchisesóespecially ones that could be slasher franchisesóand itís a bummer to see one fizzle out due to a dearth of vision and imagination. Brahms could have been so much fun had it simply embraced the nutso premise its predecessor teed up for it. Instead, we have a movie that feels like it was made by people who never even bothered to watch the first movie, let alone make the damn thing. If youíve ever wanted to see what a misguided attempt at course correction looks like, this is it. I canít imagine anybody wanted yet another slickly produced but tepid haunted house movie when they could have had Brahms ripping through shit like Jason Voorhees. Of course, we live in a world where we canít even have Jason Voorhees ripping through shit like Jason Voorhees, so maybe we just have to accept that weíre in the worst timeline.
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