Some films are just better left without a sequel, something which Brahms: The Boy II proves within the first few minutes…
…Directed by William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside) and written by Stacey Menear (The Boy), Brahms: The Boy II picks up not long after the first film saw (SPOILER FOR THE BOY) Brahms revealed as not a sinister doll, but a grown ass man living inside the walls of an ancient mansion and left dead after revealing himself to Greta (Lauren Cohan). A great concept, that was an excellent twist at the time.
So, where’s this sequel going to go now, right? The correct answer is, it should’ve stopped there.
After Liza (Katie Holmes) and her son, Jude (Christopher Convery) experience a traumatic burglary that nearly left Liza dead and has caused Jude to stop speaking, her husband Sean (Owain Yeoman) decides to move the family out to the countryside for some peace and quiet. What they get instead is a doll which Jude finds buried in the woods and refers to as Brahms. The doll is a creepy son of a bitch, but, despite Liza’s reservations, they decide to let Jude keep it, as it seems to be helping him through his trauma. He talks with Brahms, and Brahms goes everywhere Jude goes. But Liza can swear she sees the doll making glass eyes at her, and becomes especially concerned when Jude starts dressing like Brahms and drawing colorful photos of murdering his parents.
Ah, the wonders of children.
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. Sean is a good guy but one that’s hardly there for his family, always involved in work. Jude not speaking and carrying around a notebook which he writes messages in adds a reserved sadness to the character that becomes slightly more sinister over time. And Liza is so traumatized by the whole experience, it’s difficult for her (and us) to trust anything she sees, since, as she admits, she hasn’t “been able to relax” since the incident. The performances are believable, and we really do root for this family to get better.
Unfortunately, character is all the film does well.
Unlike The Boy, which set up a highly unnerving scenario in which a nanny is hired to take care of a doll, with all sorts of weirdo suspects as people that may be screwing with her, Brahms isn’t working with nearly as much. It’s like a one of a kind antique doll vs a Cabbage Patch kid. There’s no competition. Not only has the setting been moved from the eerie Heelshire Mansion to a large but indistinct guest home nearby, but there aren’t any suspects this time around to keep the tension brewing and keep us guessing as to what is going on here.
Early on, the family encounters Joseph (Ralph Ineson), the caretaker of the grounds. He’s old, and he carries a gun, but there’s nothing sinister about him, and it’s hard to believe the family has anything to worry about with him when his dog is the first one to suffer Brahms’ wrath. Which, come on, can we stop using the dog death to scare the audience? Sure, Brahms is an asshole, but I didn’t see anywhere in his rulebook that dogs aren’t okay, did you? I DIDN’T THINK SO. Moving on.
The filmmakers are at least aware enough of the concept to know that the same trick isn’t going to work twice. So instead of riveting tension with multiple strange suspects, the terror of the film is portrayed through Jude, who starts creeping his parents out by dressing in little suits like his porcelain friend and demanding they make a plate of food for Brahms. But “acting strange” can only go so far, and that strangeness is consistently undercut by Jude himself, who, instead of getting weirder and weirder, actually seems to start getting better as time goes on, recovering his voice and speaking to his parents again. Sure, drawings of shooting his family to death are unnerving, but Jude has multiple moments of appearing concerned for his parents as well, and always comes off more sympathetic than “scary”.
As for the scares, Brahms breaks various rules of horror films, including remaining as generic and lifeless as possible. But at least it’s consistent in that. With Liza on edge, the film makes the mistake of focusing not on her unease with Jude, but with Brahms. Every other scene is Liza having a staring contest with the doll, or imagining a CG cloud of flies escaping its mouth. And that’s it. Seriously. Outside of one grisly moment that isn’t even caused by Brahms, the doll does next to nothing other than sit around, occasionally moving his head for the audience. Yes, Brahms makes clear early on that there is something supernatural going on here, lessening the terror by forcing the audience to sit through a dull, painful hour of waiting for the characters to catch up.
Another rule that shouldn’t be broken in horror: the audience should never be ten steps ahead of your protagonist, unless you want them looking as dead and uninterested as Brahms.
Brahms tries so hard to rewrite history, introducing concepts that are forcibly shoved into the narrative during the final moments instead of evolving naturally, and it’s to laughable effect. Literally. Multiple times throughout, the audience in my theater lost it at unintentionally hilarious moments of said staring contests and silly “twists,” and I don’t blame them.
Rule number three broken: when an intrinsically silly horror film takes itself too seriously. Three strikes, you’re out, Brahms!
Brahms is well made, and there is one particularly excellent reveal towards the end that will have some jaws dropping, but this is a play date devoid of any suspense, mystery, or even a solid jump scare or two. At points, I wished the film would just go full Child’s Play with Brahms running around and swearing like a sailor. Instead, Brahms remains a quiet, uneventful film, that at just ninety minutes, runs too long. Some films are better left without a sequel, and Brahms is a shining, porcelain example of why.
Brahms: The Boy II is now playing in theaters from STX Entertainment.
By Matt Konopka