Porcelain Terror Makes Even Less Sense in ‘Brahms: The Boy II’
Somehow “Brahms: The Boy II” manages to at least look better than its predecessor. Everything else works as needlessly as the lengthy title. It is indeed a sequel of sorts to 2016’s bizarre and wacky “The Boy,” where a porcelain doll in a suit tormented its babysitter. It ended on a note that made a follow-up truly challenging. Unlike its siblings who roam around the same genre, Brahms the doll turned to be not some agent of demonic forces, but a mere substitute for a scarred psycho hiding within the walls of an old mansion. As required by B-movie plotting he took a knife to the gut and died, so how to continue? The filmmakers have decided to keep making even less sense for round two.
This time around the story begins in an urban apartment where Liza (Katie Holmes) falls victim to burglars dressed like high-grade assassins. She survives but the attack was witnessed by her young son Jude (Christopher Convery), who is left unable to speak and communicates via notepad. To try and get over the attack, Liza, her husband Sean (Owain Yeoman) with Jude decide to go stay in the country at the nice guest house of a friend. While roaming the woods they come across the mansion which once belonged to the doomed Heelshires. They also find our old friend the accursed doll Brahms, newly reassembled but buried in dirt. He conveniently has a tattered list of rules for his care. Jude immediately and creepily becomes attached to Brahms, carrying him everywhere, sitting next to him at the dinner table and insisting on following his “rules.” Soon Liza gets the eerie feeling that Brahms is exerting a dark influence, plus sometimes it seems the doll’s head moves and follows her around. Jude also starts talking to Brahms and claims to be getting messages. A local groundskeeper, Joseph (Ralph Ineson), seems to know what Liza and Sean can’t fathom, that Brahms is cursed and preparing a bloody finale.
“Brahms: The Boy II” is what’s called a stand-alone sequel, meaning the first movie was a hit and thus required some kind of continuation. Director William Brent Bell and writer Stacey Menear are back to defy the very logic of their first yarn. What has improved is the look. This movie looks less like a TV production and has better cinematography courtesy of Karl Walter Lindenlaub, who’s lensed some notable blockbusters like “Independence Day” and “Rob Roy.” He applies a good eye, adding better shadows and angles to a premise that descends into total absurdity. A major challenge is how to keep any tension going when the first half of the movie’s 1 hour and 26 minutes depends once again entirely on the immovable, porcelain Brahms. Bell repeats some of the old tricks from the first movie, like having Liza sense Brahms is staring at her, or endless close-ups of Brahms’s expressionless face at the dinner table or on a living room chair. We don’t even get a creepy shower scene where someone suspects Brahms is roaming about behind the steam like in the first movie. This doll is the boring cousin of “Annabelle,” where the toy truly unleashes havoc. There are a few jump scares here and there like Liza arguing with Jude, leaving the room and returning to find the dinner table overturned. A mean cousin who comes to visit and makes fun of the doll gets his just desserts with a spike poking out of the ground. Joseph has a habit of simply popping up with his rifle. Who pays him or how he lives is never explained, at least until the end when he becomes the ridiculous link to the plot twist.
Because “Brahms: The Boy II” (couldn’t they have just stuck with “The Boy II”?) lingers for so long before explaining itself, it’s easy to notice odd continuity errors, like how Brahms was cracked and broken at the end of the last movie but looks pristine in this one. The strangest development is how the first movie ended on a very non-supernatural note as the real Brahms had been hiding inside the walls of his parents the Heelshires’ mansion. The sequel switches to “Exorcist” mode as now Brahms is indeed a possessed doll, capable of getting into your nightmares, at least once. He doesn’t do much even as a demonic presence. There’s no attempt to make any sense of it. When Brahms was shattered into pieces in the first movie he became a pile of porcelain shards, in this one he’s hiding something underneath best not to spoil, but if you remember the first movie it will leave you wondering how it even happens, or what it even means. There’s not much to say about the acting because everyone does what they’re expected to do including stare out windows with frightened expressions and argue over what to do about Jude being attached to a creepy doll.
You guessed right if you assume “Brahms: The Boy II” ends with an open window for a third movie. It has to. All indications from the final scene are that the next chapter will make less sense than the second or even first. Or maybe it will surprise with a better idea of what to do with a dead porcelain face. For now this is a sequel that never gets off the shelf.
“Brahms: The Boy II” opens Feb. 21 in theaters nationwide.