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In Theaters: BRAHMS: THE BOY II (2020)

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BRAHMS: THE BOY II
(US - 2020)

Directed by William Brent Bell. Written by Stacey Menear. Cast: Katie Holmes, Owain Yeoman, Ralph Ineson, Christopher Convery, Anjali Jay, Oliver Rice, Joely Collins, Natalie Moon. (PG-13, 86 mins)

The modestly-budgeted "creepy doll" horror film THE BOY grossed $35 million back in 2016, making it a profitable enough minor hit in the January dead zone to warrant a sequel four years later. That's a long time, so you can be forgiven if you don't recall much about THE BOY. And that's OK, because the returning creative core behind it--director William Brent Bell and screenwriter Stacey Menear--doesn't seem to either. The kind of disposable, assembly-line fright flick that's sufficiently engaging while you're watching but instantly forgotten the moment the credits start rolling at the 80-minute mark, BRAHMS: THE BOY II's biggest shock is that it's actually making a quick stop in multiplexes on the way to its intended destination: elbow-deep in the $5 Blu-ray bin at Walmart. THE BOY's supernatural shenanigans involving well-dressed, toddler-sized porcelain doll Brahms were rather improbably explained away by a late-film twist that owed a significant debt to the 2014 New Zealand import HOUSEBOUND. But with BRAHMS: THE BOY II, a rare example of a sequel that probably plays better if you never saw Part I, Bell (worst-known for directing THE DEVIL INSIDE, the Nigerian prince e-mail of demonic possession movies) and Menear opt for the HIGHLANDER 2: THE QUICKENING route, ret-conning half of their first movie by making Brahms a legitimately supernatural entity (thankfully not from the planet Zeist) that's instilling a possession-like hold on young Jude (Christopher Convery), who's stopped speaking since burglars broke into his family's London home in the middle of the night and attacked his American expat mom Liza (Katie Holmes) while his dad Sean (Owain Yeoman) was away for work. Liza's been suffering from nightmares since and Jude will only communicate by note pad, but their child psychologist (Anjali Jay) says he just needs time.






Sean and Liza decide they all need to get away, renting a guest house that's on the outskirts of the property of the now-shuttered Heelshire Estate, where the events of the first film took place. While exploring the woods around the stately manor, Jude sees a porcelain hand sticking out of the dirt and unearths a buried Brahms, immediately growing attached to it and always having it by his side. At first, Liza finds it strange (especially when Jude unveils a list of "rules" he claims were dictated by the doll), but when she and Sean overhear Jude talking to it in his room, they believe Brahms is therapeutic for him. But it isn't long before the doll exhibits a strange hold on Jude, who starts acting out against his parents, with Liza discovering a series of violent drawings in his sketch book that show him toting a shotgun and standing over their dead bodies while Brahms looks on approvingly. Heelshire groundskeeper Joseph (Ralph Ineson) knows something is up as well, especially when his dog gets all skittish and growly when Jude and the doll are together. It's not surprising Liza feels like Brahms is always watching her, since he turns his head or moves his eyes when no one is looking, and he even starts playing games like turning on the TV when Liza is in the next room and no one else is around.


Dead-eyed horror movie dolls like Brahms are almost always creepily effective, especially ones that look like they've been motion-captured by Jared Kushner. And once the action moves to the Heelshire mansion, the film takes on a reasonably atmospheric 1970s Hammer/Amicus vibe. There are some scattered pleasures to be had here if one approaches it with low expectations: one eerie moment involves a door creaking open to reveal Jude in the Brahms mask staring at Liza, and one particularly obnoxious character gets a cathartic comeuppance that shuts him up pretty quickly, plus Bell offers one striking dissolve that shows he knows his Kubrick. But it's all quite silly, especially when Sean rushes that obnoxious character to the hospital and takes a seat near an affable stranger in the waiting room who says "The Heelshire mansion?" in the same tone as Charlton Heston's"Gordon Street?" from WAYNE'S WORLD 2 before pulling a full-on Basil Exposition info dump. Likewise, the newly-created history of evil surrounding the Heelshire house of horrors and Brahms' reign of supernatural terror on generations of unsuspecting little boys could've been uncovered much sooner if the film didn't make the otherwise intelligent Liza (Holmes puts forth some effort, admirably taking this paycheck gig seriously as she works her way through a career lull) clueless for the sake of delaying the reveal. She learns that most doll manufacturers put a doll's specific mold number on the hand or the foot, finds the mold number "606H" on Brahms' foot, scribbles it on a piece of scrap paper, and keys it into an online database. She gets a "no matches found" and dismissively tosses the scrap paper into the trash. It takes Liza another 45 minutes of screen time and a dozen other strange occurrences to glance in the trashcan and see the piece of paper with "606H" to realize what any seasoned moviegoer picked up instantly: that the mold number is actually "H909." Of course, this ingeniously tricky plot development--concocted by someone who clearly never punched "01134" into a calculator and turned it upside down--leads her to endless news stories about decades of tragedies and deaths all tied to the Heelshire Estate and the doll with Brahms' mold number.

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