If favorites like Chucky, Annabelle and Talky Tina remain formidable, memorable icons within their respective subgenre, then Brahms is, unfortunately, the overly familiar copycat whose presence is about as menacing as his hairline. “Brahms: The Boy II,” the latest entry in the spooky-doll-causes-violent-mischief canon, comes to us from William Brent Bell, director of its 2016 predecessor. While “The Boy” reaped a considerable profit, raking in about $64 million worldwide on a $10 million budget, the film’s ending didn’t open that many doors for sequel opportunities. Based on how this follow-up turned out, it probably would have been wiser for Brahms to be a one-and-done.
“Brahms” takes place years after the ensuing incident in “The Boy,” shifting the focus away to an upper-class family who relocate to the infamous Heelshire estate after a traumatic break-in event back in London. The young son, Jude (Christopher Convery), rendering himself mute since the intrusion, stumbles upon the porcelain Brahms buried in the dirt. Liza (Katie Holmes) and Sean (Owain Yeoman), after restoring the doll, begin to notice that Jude has taken on Brahms as a security blanket of sorts, never letting him leave his side. And from here, you can pretty much see where this goes.
Starting on a positive note, the performances are consistently acceptable. Convery works best when he’s interacting with Brahms, and using his personal notebook to convey what he’s trying to say but just quite can’t. For as underutilized as he turns out to be, Ralph Ineson (“The Witch”), as a local groundskeeper, does what he does best: reciting dialogue with that smooth, gravely tone of his. But even Ineson is too good for this.
Holmes and Yeoman are serviceable horror movie parents, at best. Routine cliches dictate the meat of their performances, and there’s simply not much to chew on. Jude acts suspicious with Brahms, Liza reacts with concern, and Sean brushes it off and/or alters the blame onto her. Wash, rinse, repeat. And to make matters worse, this is yet another horror movie family that seemingly doesn’t take the time to properly research their new home before purchasing it.
The attempt at adding depth to their family dynamic falters when you take into consideration that the film’s opening break-in shows very little, leaving us to fill in the blanks of what happened that night. The film’s setting is also a downgrade, opting to have the family shack up in the estate’s average-looking guest house beside the atmospheric Heelshire manor.
Resorting to lazy scares, “Brahms” pads out the easiest trick it can use to elicit some sort of reaction out of the audience with a never-ending string of thundering jolts. Of course I’m going to jump at a dog barking at a Level 10 when the scene’s audio is at a five. It even has the audacity to pull the ‘dream within a dream’ gotcha scare without a hint of irony as to how many times that’s been pulled off before in countless other movies.
“The Boy,” at the very least, showed some restraint. It’s slightly better if only for its commitment to the mystery of Brahms, demonstrating an unsure atmosphere before the big reveal. The most shocking moment of “Brahms,” without completely giving it away (unlike the marketing department already has), involves something pretty nasty happening to a child. This scene in a better movie would carry some heft to it, but the setup of this confrontation demonstrates that it’s a presentation strictly for fleeting shock value.
As the title indicates, “Brahms: The Boy II” pulls a “Rambo: First Blood – Part II” because, ironically enough, both films take the core premise of their predecessors and turns it on its head for the worst. Whereas “Rambo” made up for its ultimate tone shift with a healthy dose of slightly entertaining explosive ‘80s shlock, “Brahms” refuses to play in the weird sandbox it’s built for itself. And by the time it unleashes its ‘secrets,’ it’s already too little too late.
The big twist towards the end of “The Boy,” at the very least, veers into an entirely different direction with the revelation that the predictable notion of the doll moving around on its own accord had been one big red herring. It turns out that the real Brahms didn’t die in that fire as a child but is very much alive and living in the mansion’s labyrinth-esque crawl space as an adult (James Russell), and moving the doll around on his own accord. Surprise! This movie, however, opts to retcon that finale and go in a much different, stupider direction.
“Brahms” takes characters, events and places we’ve seen from the previous film, and doesn’t show it from a new perspective but outright disregards it (or flat out tell us that they didn’t happen exactly as they objectively played out originally). I know what I saw. It’s all the more baffling when you take into account that this follow-up comes from the same creative mind behind “The Boy,” calling into question whether or not he’s familiar with the mechanics of his own film. If you’re going to switch things up and disregard previous foundation, go nuts with it.
“Brahms: The Boy II” ultimately peters out as little more than a below average doll movie that struggles to justify being made, baffling franchise potential aside.
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Matt graduated from Keene State College in 2017 with a Bachelor’s in Critical Film Studies. A few of his favorite films include “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Army of Darkness,” “Before Sunrise” and “Certain Women.” Having already contributed to Bloody Disgusting, ELF Magazine and The Simple Cinephile, Matt aspires to expand and continue writing with various outlets. If there’s any chance to talk about horror films and/or Twin Peaks, he’ll very much jump at the opportunity.