Reviewed By Ross Hughes
Recommended by fellow horror reviewer DJ, this 1994 serial killer film entered my collection last week with my mouth foaming at the prospect of a film that I somehow missed all those years back that for all I knew, seemed to be a hidden treasure, a film that should rank alongside such greats as Se7en and Silence Of The Lambs. The fact that after I purchased it, I was informed of a sequel that suggested that the original done well enough to warrant a follow up and also created a decent fan base, and finally when I saw that the film was on a few underrated lists on some other forums, I could not wait to see what all the fuss was about!
Was DJ wise enough to suggest such a film?
We start with a slow mo, teens dancing away while rain falls to the ground, this what seems like a typical rave party is disrupted when a young couple heading off to probably do what young couples do, watch in amazement when severed hands of young children fall out of a sewage pipe, each with a number imprinted on the palm. This leads to the local police to lead a murder hunt, head hunted by Captain Swaggert (Martin Sheen) who is annoyed when the town are sent a criminal profiler in the shape of Universal Soldier’s Ally Walker whose character Audrey Macleah seems to have walked straight from her TV show Profiler, which if you have never seen then you should especially if you a major fan of this film, as at first this seems like a movie version of that TV show, it really is uncanny.
Typical of all these films, the arrival of Macleah is frowned upon by the other officers and the young woman is left to embark on the solving of this case all on its own, which would be ok but just seems to waste the talents of some one like Sheen who vanishes somewhat between the hour mark never to be seen until the final image. Her crime work leads her to a psychiatrist hospital and encounter with a young boy named Jordon Thomas (Tara Subkoff) who is mute but suffers from a bizarre case of on every year on the date July 16th he draws a hand on the wall of his room, with a number on its palm, that eerily mirrors the gruesome findings in the sewers. Macleah knows that there is a link between this troubled boy and the killer at large, but how can she solve a case when her only lead does not talk, and with the date approaching July 16th, which suggests that the killer is ready to strike again, time is running out for both her and the mind of the fragile disturbed young boy!
The one thing that totally wrecks When The Bough Breaks is Se7en. Yes the comparisons of Silence rings out at times, but its the David Fincher masterpiece that ruins all suspense right at the start. I suggest all those who have never seen this film is to keep their eyes closed when the credits are rolling at the beginning to avoid the cast list that shows a big name who does not appear through out which can only mean that its them who is the killer! Se7en was quite ingenious not too do this, and it does take away all the tension in which anyone expecting a huge twist will be solely disappointed!
That’s not to say that the film is a waste. The intrigue comes from the tale of the young boy whose link with the killer is something that will keep you watching well up to the very end! The scenes in which Macleah tries to communicate with the mute young child are the films most strongest aspect, a real powerful heart tugger in which your brain demands to know why this boy is suffering like he is! There are times that the film suggests some supernatural involvement and while thankfully the film wisely does not go down this route, it still shows a case of some wonderful ideas in the script, its just that the films flaws fail to provide the shocks that it deserves.
There are some really bad moments that will test your patience. On following up the lead, the cops and Macleah believe they have found their man, only for another kidnapping to take place soon after. This would all be ok, other films have done something similar to this, but what tests the credability is the way it is handled. We led to believe that the work force in which the cops are led too, has not just a killer in its ranks, but also a paedophile who just happens to be around the same time as the killer is kidnapping the children. Its a real stretch that ruins at times the good work taking place, the film builds some credible suspense, and it has a wicked doom like soundtrack, but when scenes like that are so shallow, it quite ruins the watch!
The climax is also very questionable. Unlike Silence in which Jodie Foster unwittingly puts herself in danger, and in Se7en , where the two detectives do not know where they are heading towards, Macleah on the other hand does everything that all cops should not do. She puts herself in a position of danger when there was no real need to, and its a credit that her performance brings enough terror to the audience that we want her to escape her plight, and while the film gets away with its weak plotting by giving us the edge of the seat smack down, its all over before we get excited, leaving us feeling a bit flat and somewhat disappointed!
There is a little argument going on over the Weird thread over this film. DJ believes its underrated serial killing film, while another suggests its overrated. To sit on the fence, I can see both arguments. Its a movie that I will no doubt have appreciated more if seen way back in 1993. Back then, these kind of films were all the range, and this is no doubt one of the strongest of that period. The acting is strong, the plot different and original, and it really has moments that suggest that director Michael Cohn was a talent to look out for. Sadly the only film he followed this up with was Snow White: Tale Of Terror, which flopped and since then he has vanished from the movie world. But for all those at the age when serial killing films did not exists before Se7en, then you will find not much to go on. It may be too slow, not enough killings and a climax that is as dumb as Macleah for putting herself in that position. Yes there is no excuse for dumb writing, but lets not forget how old this film is, and it does at times show some integrity by not selling out for the need of gore. In fact I can not remember any blood at all throughout the film, a sign that the aim was for good storytelling even though the ambition does not quite match the result.
OVERALL: A decent virtually unheard of 90’s thriller whose strong showing comes from the scenes in which Mcleah tries to bond with a troubled young child, there is no twist and the film fails to deliver a much darker edge than it at times suggested, but its watchable 90’s fare with Walker in such fine formidable form…..