IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 86 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A home invasion by a burglar leaves Liza with a head injury and her son unable to speak. Husband Sean relocates the family to a guest house on the Glenview Estate. While exploring the woods, Jude finds a porcelain doll named Brahms buried in a shallow grave in the ground and takes him home. However, he soon becomes obsessed with Brahms, who seems to communicate with the kid when they’re alone, and even presents a list of rules for his care. Whils Jude’s anger rises, the understandably unnerved Liza tries to get to the bottom of Brahms’s history, while neighbour Joseph might know a thing or two about the doll…..
When the sequel to The Boy was announced, many including at least one of my co-writers at HCF wondered why it was being made. The Boy was a moderate hit at the box office, that’s why, and even moderate box office hits in the horror genre often get sequels these days, especially if a potential franchise can be smelt, though it didn’t really seem like a story that deserved a follow-up. My opinion of the film has changed a little since its release and when I re-watched it last year. Seeing as I’m one of those odd people who find dolls to be rather macabre, I thought that it did reasonably well in getting me suitably on edge, and, while its psychological aspects weren’t really followed through, it was a solid effort until a twist came along that I found to be pretty ridiculous at the time. However, here’s the thing – on my re-watch said twist came across as rather cool and slightly possible this time around, iif still a bit farfetched. I think what irritated me the first time was the way it dispelled suggestions of the supernatural, but the tale of a woman who takes take care of a doll as if it were a real boy, and becomes convinced that it was real only to find that there was a man living in the wall doing all the weird stuff, does have an irony about it, even if in between my two viewings I found out that it owed a debt to a film named Housebound. But no, it doesn’t really sound like sequel material, so what have returning director William Brent Bell and writer Stacy Menear opted to do? Create a follow-up that ignores the original concept except for some referencing to its events which seem to be only tenuously linked to what happens in this new movie, and reshape things into just another Scary Doll movie. This means that Brahms: The Boy 2 is an unusual sequel in that it’s probably a better watch if you haven’t seen the first film. If you have, then you may will be confused – I sure was for a while until I tried to forget what occurred before and try to enjoy this film on its own terms.
However, doing such a thing wasn’t that easy as this really is a bland, generic affair, short on inspiration and short on scares. We open fairly well with Liza having got home and thinking that the sight of the tips of two shoes around the corner in the kitchen mean that her son is about to jump out at her – but the shoes are empty and Jude surprises her a few seconds later from the other side. Cheap stuff but it works quite well, as does the sight of the darkened outline of an intruder glimpsed between some stairs, but then the attack scene is atrociously filmed so you can barely see what is happening due to the blurriness and ‘shakycam’, and it then seems to end half way through so that some of what exactly takes place remains shrouded in mystery. Anyway, both mother and son are severely affected by the incident, so Sean moves them to that familiar eerie old place in the countryside Healshire Manor, though it’s now called Glenview Estate and the three are living in a guest house on the grounds rather than in the big mansion. This means that much of the Gothic atmosphere that provided a few creeps previously is largely lacking second time round, though there is the pleasant feel of an Amicus film in places. As soon as Liza and Jude go for a nature walk, before you can say “Jud Crandall” a somewhat mysterious old man turns up to surprise them and act like he’s just dying to reveal a load of dark secrets concerning the locale but is still going to wait much longer to do so. He’s Joseph the groundskeeper, and Liza doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the fact that he carries around with him a broken-open shotgun in front of her child as she ought to be. Jude, who has been unable to speak since the attack, finds Brahms buried in the ground, and soon boy and doll are best mates. But why does Joseph’s dog growl whenever he sees Brahms? And who turned on the TV when nobody except Lisa is around?
Just as before, Brahms is seemingly helping somebody recover from a traumatic event, with Jude even being able to talk to the doll even though he still communicates with everyone else via notepad. Of course there are now two people badly affected by the event, and the script suggests that Liza could have mental issues before then forgetting about this when we see Brahms doing strange things like having an earwig crawl out of his ear, and therefore all but ruining the potential of the idea of both mother and son being terribly affected by the same incident. The film does this a lot; hinting at interesting elements which are then dispensed with, like there being tension in the marriage of Sean, who often works late, and Liza’s marriage right from the offset which is soon reduced to the two being sometimes at odds over Brahms and Sean’s dependence on Brahms. Developments are often so obvious that you could can probably fill in the rest of the story from here. I liked the dining table being capsized after Jude has just warned his mother not to make the doll angry, but it’s no surprise, for example, that Jude starts to have an attitude and does things like filling a sketchbook with menacing words and pictures, such as Jude toting a shotgun and standing over the dead bodies of his parents while Brahms looks on approvingly. That Brahms seems to move about. That Liza is going to turn detective. That Joseph’s dog – oh dear have I revealed too much? – no I very much doubt it. Of course the use of tried and tested tropes can always still work, but this film just seems to half-heartedly plod through them, the only surprise being that there’s hardly any edge to the proceedings. The sound of the patter of Brahm’s feet still creates a mild shudder, but I was shocked by how things like the sight of Brahm’s head turning while nobody in the film sees it just failed to work for this doll-phobic fool, largely because such moments look distinctly cartoonish.
Brahms is still uncomfortable to look at to these eyes, but that’s pretty much all he ever is, unless you count a nightmare where a door creaks open to reveal Jude in the Brahms mask staring at Liza. Only occasionally did that hideous porcelain boy get me nervous – and that’s some feat though hardly one worthy of celebrating. Of course there are quite a few jump scares but these tend to have only a moderate effect, relying far more on noise than visuals. The original was originally intended as an ‘R’ rated film before it was possibly cut down or more likely rewritten, but this one is barely ‘PG-13’ stuff – which I guess means that this could be a decent horror film to start your kids with if the really old stuff fails to appeal. Adults may just find themselves groaning. There are several crucial moments where any reasonable parents would grab their kid and put the house and Brahms in their rear view mirror, but who would accuse Liza and Sean of having much common sense? And you just have to laugh when Sean rushes someone to the hospital and takes a seat near somebody in the waiting room who says “The Healshire mansion?” before pulling a full-on Basil Exposition info dump. The silliest piece of plotting is when Liza learns that most doll manufacturers put a doll’s specific mold number on the hand or the foot. She finds the mold number 606H on Brahms’ foot, so she scribbled it on a piece of paper, and searches for it online. There are no matches, so she throws the piece of paper into the bin. 45 minutes of screen time later and a load of other strange occurrences cause her to glance at the bin and see the piece of paper with 606H to realise what many of us may have picked up instantly: that the mold number is actually H909.
There’s a potentially interesting segment when a group of relatives pay a visit, but as soon as they show up it’s obvious that it’s in order for one of them to provide fodder for Brahms’ wrath, with that person being so horrible that there’s neither any surprise nor sympathy when they meet their fate, and the “accident” they suffer being telegraphed well in advance – which I suppose could have worked if there was some decent suspense building. Not even Liza periodically watching out of the window helps because it gets ridiculous that she doesn’t notice something’s about to happen even if it doesn’t turn out to be what she expected. But then Katie Holmes, in a really thankless ‘come back’ role, isn’t required to do much more than look scared. In fact two thirds of the film appear to consist of her looking either scared or bored, and Brahms looking creepy. Meanwhile Owain Yeoman is stuck with an even more thankless role, Sean being little more than a sounding board for Liza. They just wanted to rush to the climax, something that may have been forgivable if it had been good. Sadly, despite a return to the original house, it’s not very impressive at all. Things do threaten to become a little crazy, but then fail to follow through unless you count some really crappy CGI – I mean did they even try here? – and the fact that we’ve not long had a sudden and extreme character change from somebody. And then – well – the final ‘shock’ [if you can call it that], is just so lame, you know it’s coming but hope to no avail that it will at least be interestingly done.
At least gravely-voiced Ralph Ineson from The Witch seems to be enjoying himself as Joseph, and Bell provides the odd visual trick such as an interesting dissolve, but in general things are just very lacklustre. Brahms: The Boy 2 is rarely actually terrible – though I almost wish it had have been as it might have been more fun that way. It mostly just sits there, doing very little in particular. It doesn’t even seem to present much in the way of stakes: all Brahms does is make Jude like act a typical teenager a few years too early. And while this is not an active criticism of Christopher Convery who was probably required to play Jude the way that he does, surely we’ve had enough of all these children in horror movies who pretty much all look and act the same? It’s time for a change. Brahms: The Boy 2 seems have done disappointing box office, which to me isn’t the only indication that tired, lazy efforts like this just aren’t appealing much these days to horror fans. I guess it’s hard to frighten and thrill and surprise when it feels like we’ve seen it all. But honestly – they could have tried a bit harder here.