February 21, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by William Brent Bell
Culture Representation: Taking place in England, the horror sequel “Brahms: The Boy II” has a predominantly white cast of characters representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A family with a troubled past moves to a new home and finds a doll that seems to be wreaking havoc on their lives.
Culture Audience: “Brahms: The Boy II” will appeal mostly to horror fans who like stories that aren’t too gory and follow a predictable formula.
Around the time that Warner Bros. Pictures’ 2013 horror blockbuster “The Conjuring” became a hit that spawned sequels and the “Annabelle” spinoffs, independent film company STX decided it wanted to have its own horror franchise about an evil doll. Instead of a female doll, it would be a male doll. The result was 2016’s “The Boy,” a laughable stinker that made $64 million worldwide on a $10 million production budget, according to Box Office Mojo. Apparently, the profit margin was good enough that STX went ahead with this slightly better but still terrible sequel “Brahms: The Boy II,” which is one of many disappointing horror films that have been released in 2020.
You don’t have to see “The Boy” to know what’s going on in “Brahms: The Boy II.” In “The Boy,” American nanny Greta Evans (played by Lauren Cohan), who’s living in England, is hired by wealthy elderly couple Mr. and Mrs. Wheelshire (played by Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) to take care of their underage son Brahms, only to find out that the boy is really a doll. The doll is named after the couple’s real-life son Brahms, who is said to have died under mysterious circumstances several years before. Greta thinks the job is weird, but she stays because she needs the money.
Slowly but surely, she finds out that not only can the doll move on its own, but strange things also start happening around the house, which is an isolated mansion in the woods. (Of course it is.) Even when she finds out that the doll is probably possessed by an evil spirit, she stays and starts to feel oddly protective of the doll. Family secrets are revealed, and there’s a plot twist/showdown that ranks as one of the most ludicrous in horror movies of the 2010s.
What happened in “The Boy” is referenced in “Brahms: The Boy II” with an update on something involving the plot twist at the end of the first movie. What makes “Brahms: The Boy II” (which was directed by William Brent Bell and written by Stacey Menear) a slight improvement over its predecessor is that the people’s reactions to the sinister doll are much more realistic. However, the movie’s screenplay is utterly predictable, using many of the same tropes and plot devices as dozens of other horror flicks about “fill in the blank” being possessed by an evil spirit.
In “Brahms: The Boy II,” housewife Liza (played by Katie Holmes) is an American living in London with her British businessman husband Sean (played by Owain Yeoman) and their son Jude (played by Christopher Convery), who has an American accent. (The movie doesn’t say how long this family has been living in England.) Sean’s work requires him to often be away from home, where Liza homeschools Jude.
One night, while Sean is away on business, two masked and armed intruders break into the home and attack Liza, while Jude witnesses the whole thing and can only stand by helplessly. The crime has been so traumatizing that Liza becomes depressed and distant from Sean, and Jude becomes mute. Jude’s therapist Dr. Lawrence (played by Anjali Jay) says that it’s unknown if Jude will speak again, but his chances of speaking again will increase if his parents create a positive environment and keep encouraging him to speak.
In an effort to start a new life, Liza agrees to Sean’s idea that the family move to the country. They choose a guest house on a vast property in the woods. On their first day in their new home, the family is walking in the woods when Jude finds a boy doll buried under a pile of leaves. The doll is buried with a list of 10 typewritten rules that include instructions that the doll cannot be left alone.
When Jude shows Liza and Sean the doll, they don’t say too much about it, because during the family’s walk in the woods, they’ve discovered the main house, which is a deserted mansion. Sean and Liza marvel at the mansion from the outside (even though it’s obviously in a state of neglect) and say they wish they could live there instead of the guest house.
Back at the guest house, Liza cleans up the doll and notices that it’s been broken before and put back together. Jude has immediately latched on to the doll and carries it with him wherever he goes. When Sean asks Jude what the doll’s name is, mute Jude (who communicates in writing) says the doll’s name is Brahms. How did Jude come up with that name? Jude says that doll told him that his name is Brahms. Although Sean privately admits to Liza that the doll is creepy, he and Liza both think that Jude could use it as a therapy doll that could help Jude to talk again.
Shortly after the family’s arrival, they meet the groundskeeper Joseph, nicknamed Joe (played by Ralph Ineson), and his German Shepherd named Oz. The dog immediately begins growling at the sight of the doll. Of course, the family doesn’t think anything of it and assumes that it’s the animal’s natural reaction to a strange-looking toy.
Meanwhile, when Jude is alone, he goes back out in the woods and finds a wardrobe with more of the doll’s clothes buried in the same area where he found the doll. Why did Jude go back in the woods to find this wardrobe? Brahms told him to do it.
Jude’s insistence in treating the doll like a real person who talks to him reaches a point where Brahms gets his own seat and meals at the dining table when the family eats together. Under other circumstances, the parents would look crazy for making these accommodations, but the story at least made it believable that these parents are so desperate for their son to talk again that they’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen, even if it means pretending that the doll is their son’s imaginary friend. Because the stakes are higher for the family in the movie (compared to a nanny who can just quit the job), it’s easier to see why the parents want take a chance by keeping the doll, if they think that it will help their son.
After Jude discovers a creepy doll mask (which is part of “The Boy” movie) and puts it on, he begins talking again, much to the delight of his parents. But his attachment to Brahms becomes even more disturbing when he tells his parents that they can never leave Brahms alone.
Meanwhile, strange things start happening. Joe’s dog Oz has disappeared. Liza notices that when she’s alone with the doll, it appears to move from one place to another when she’s not looking. It’s déjà vu to what the nanny experienced with the same doll in “The Boy.”
Feeling isolated and increasingly fearful, Liza invites a female British relative and her husband and their underage children for a visit. The relative’s kids are a bullying son and a pleasant younger daughter. When the bully begins taunting Jude over his attachment to Brahms and starts calling Jude crazy, let’s just say that things don’t go well for anyone who tries to hurt Brahms.
The cast of actors do a satisfactory job with the script that they’ve been given. The angelic-looking Convery is well-cast as Jude, since he’s able to portray the horror of an innocent soul being overtaken by evil. However, the way he looks is so similar to the Damien Thorn character in 1976’s “The Omen” that it’s bound to get comparisons.
The biggest problem with “Brahms: The Boy II” is that there is almost nothing in the movie that is fresh or original. It’s easy to know how the movie is going to end once secrets are revealed. The scares in the movie aren’t too gory, because the terror is more psychological and about what you don’t see instead of what you do see.
The ending has a few grotesque images that just look kind of freaky instead of truly terrifying. Although the screenplay and acting of “Brahms: The Boy II” are superior to “The Boy,” the movie still lazily wallows in overused clichés. And, like most horror flicks, it leaves open the possibility for a sequel. You’ve been warned.
STX released “Brahms: The Boy II” in U.S. cinemas on February 21, 2020.