By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Katie Holmes, Owain Yeoman and Christopher Convery
Directed by William Brent Bell
Written by Stacey Menear
Though it was something of a sleeper hit four years ago, THE BOY wasn’t exactly crying out for a sequel. Once its big final-act revelation was sprung, there wasn’t anywhere left for the story to go, which means that BRAHMS: THE BOY II has to become the movie its predecessor was pretending to be for most of its running time.
You may recall (if you don’t and want to avoid spoilers for the original BOY, you can skip this paragraph) that the doll named Brahms appeared to be alive and haunting the characters for a while. Then it turned out that his thought-dead human namesake had actually been dwelling within the walls of Heelshire Manor for years, and manipulating the little porcelain figure. But in order for the second film to happen, Brahms is now possessed of supernatural qualities after all, and still hanging around that eerie old mansion in the British countryside, though it’s now called Glenview Estate and most of the action takes place in a nearby guest house, which means the Gothic atmosphere that gave the first BOY a few creeps is largely lacking in the sequel.
BRAHMS: THE BOY II opens in a suburban London home where preteen Jude (Christopher Convery) sleeps in a room decorated in Tim Burton/Charles Addams style and likes to play scary pranks on his mom Liza (Katie Holmes). But he doesn’t know what true terror is until he witnesses Liza being attacked by a couple of home invaders, an experience that renders him mute. Liza is having trouble recovering as well, so she and husband Sean (Owain Yeoman) take Jude to stay at the Glenview house. The place comes complete with a groundskeeper (gravely-voiced Ralph Ineson from THE WITCH) who glowers and constantly carries a broken-open shotgun, but otherwise seems like a decent guy. And when Jude unearths Brahms from the front lawn, the doll at first seems like it might have therapeutic properties for the troubled boy.
However…but then, you can probably fill in the rest of the story from here. Director William Brent Bell and screenwriter Stacey Menear, both encoring from the original film, haven’t come up with any but the most obvious developments (Brahms begins to take hold of Jude, who develops an attitude and fills a sketchbook with menacing words and pictures, etc.), peppered with jump scares and nightmare scenes, including a nightmare-within-a-nightmare bit. It’s all too tame (this is barely PG-13 stuff) and generic for hardcore horror fans, and—well, too tame and generic for anyone else, either. Even when a group of relatives pay a visit in order for one of them to provide fodder for Brahms’ wrath, that person is so exaggeratedly horrible that there’s neither any surprise nor sympathy when they meet their fate, and the “accident” they suffer is telegraphed well in advance.
This is one of a few crucial moments where any reasonable parents would grab their kid and put the house and Brahms in their rearview mirror, but no one would accuse Liza and Sean of having much common sense. Liza does become suspicious enough to look into Brahms’ background, which opens a couple of plausibility holes, as the filmmakers flirt with but don’t commit to a scenario in which Liza and others begin to doubt her sanity. They also give Jude a complete and unexplained reversal of character around the two-thirds mark and don’t provide Sean a chance to be anything but a sounding board for Liza, all apparently because they’re in a hurry to get to their climax.
It’s only 70 minutes into the movie when that sequence begins, and it ends exactly as you expect it will from its first shot. Then, the very last scene is exactly what you’d expect as well. In fact, the only time BRAHMS: THE BOY II inspires any serious thought is during the end credits, which reveal that one of the production’s chefs was named Tom Cruise, leading one to wonder if he was the one who cooked for Holmes.