Modern horror film sequels are a dime a dozen these days with studios looking for the next best thing in order to kick-start a franchise, a move that’s been met to varying degrees of success. For every Insidious or The Conjuring, there’s been a Child’s Play or Brightburn, both of which debuted to middling reviews but poor box office returns, making the chances that both will return for the sequels that they not-so-subtly set up to be slim to none.
There have also been a few that successfully managed to launch a franchise only for that to be completely undone with a less-than-successful sequel, such as Happy Death Day 2U, a generally well-received yet under-performing sequel to a surprise box office hit, and just this year we have Brahms: The Boy 2, which opened with $5.9 million at the US box office, roughly half of what its predecessor opened with back in 2016. That combined with less-than-stellar critical response have all but killed the chances of a third movie, which Brahms: The Boy 2 goes to great efforts to set up during the film.
When William Brent Bell’s The Boy first debuted back in January 2016, a month known as a “dumping ground” for films that studios have no confidence in, no one expected it to be as successful as it was. Aside from its discouraging release date, the film also had no recognisable IP to fall back on, no major star to bring in audiences and a director with a middling track record, having only directed two major studio releases (2006’s critically reviled Stay Alive and 2012’s ”found footage” horror The Devil Inside, a movie that angered audiences everywhere with its abrupt ending). Despite all these factors working against it, The Boy ended up being a modest success, grossing $64 million at the worldwide box office against a production budget of $10 million.
While by no means critically acclaimed, The Boy also didn’t receive the critical beat-down that many other modern horror films are more often than not subjected to, such as The Turning, Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island and Nicolas Pesce’s The Grudge reboot, all of which were released this year alone. Taking all of that into consideration, it was a no-brainer that STX Entertainment, a studio that has been facing financial setbacks due to a string of under-performing box office flops, would commission a sequel for one its most successful films. Unfortunately, despite solid performances and competent direction from Bell, who makes his return for the sequel, The Boy 2 foregoes and practically undoes everything that made its predecessor interesting in a favour of a screenplay that plays out like a rejected spec script for the Annabelle franchise.
The Boy 2 stars Katie Holmes, Owain Yeoman and Christopher Convery as a family leading a relatively uneventful life in the city that gets interrupted by a violent home invasion that leaves both mother (Holmes) and son (Convery) traumatised. Hoping a change of scenery might help them recover, they decide to move to the English countryside where the son, Jude, finds a doll buried in the dirt, digs it up and decides to bring it home, after which – as par the course for any horror movie – strange things start to occur.
While Bell does an adequate job at establishing a bleak and tense tone that emerges with the home invasion sequence (which is easily the most terrifying throughout the entire film, a testament to how well-crafted it is), he brings none of the same energy to the proceeding events, sleepwalking through a series of jump scares that are mostly callbacks to and rehashes of sequences from the first film. Holmes and Yeoman do their best with their underwritten roles, but Convery is exceptional, bringing a sharp intensity to a role that very few child actors are capable of. As a result of his character’s PTSD, the character spends most of the film in complete silence, communicating through a notepad where he jots down requests and thoughts, and Convery does an adequate job of expressing the trauma, pain and eventual fear his character experiences through his eyes alone. Elsewhere, Ralph Ineson, playing creepy groundskeeper Joseph, tries his best to elevate the material he’s been given, making you question his character’s presence and motives throughout the film’s run-time, but even he can’t save The Boy 2 from falling into painful mediocrity.
It would be difficult to dive into exactly how The Boy 2 walks back on everything that made The Boy work without delving into spoiler territory, so here’s your spoiler warning for both movies. To briefly recap the first film, which revolved around Greta Evans (played by Lauren Cohen), an American who recently moved to the UK after getting hired as a live-in nanny for the Heelshire family whose son Brahms turns out to be a porcelain doll that she starts to suspect is possessed, it plays off as your run-of-the-mill B- horror movie with a series of creepy yet bland scares that results in one of the most subversive endings from a studio horror in recent history. While both the marketing material and the film itself does its best to make you think that supernatural elements are at play, it turns out that all of the events have been orchestrated by Brahms himself, now an adult living behind the walls of his parents’ mansion, having been hidden by them there in order to avoid having to face the consequences of a crime he committed during his youth. The reveal could have easily been absurd and ridiculous but Bell does his absolute best to sell it with a truly unnerving final act anchored by the intimidating physical performance of James Russell, who plays adult Brahms and radiates so much brute force, energy and ferocity in just a few minutes of screen-time that might have cemented his status as a future horror icon.
The Boy 2 completely pulls the rug out on everyone who has seen and enjoyed The Boy by trying to retcon that ending with the ridiculous reveal that, yes, supernatural elements are at play and have been this entire time, going to great lengths in order to convince audiences that Brahms has been under the influence of the doll, who is for some reason also named Brahms and is inexplicably a supernatural entity of sorts, throughout his childhood and adult life. The movie tries its hardest to explain this through a series of flashbacks and newspaper clippings detailing several murders dating back to the 19th century that all seem to have one thing in common, the presence of Brahms (the doll, not the human) who has apparently been influencing children to go on murder sprees for decades, in a bad faith attempt to build enough of a mythology and backstory in order to kick-start a franchise. Unfortunately, by doing so, they may have all but killed the chances of that happening with a painfully dull and derivative sequel that does it best to alienate fans of the previous movie and repel any potential moviegoers.
Brahms: The Boy 2 is out in cinemas now
by Ahmad W
Currently based in the UK and the UAE, Ahmad W. is a poster designer, budding screenwriter and journalist from Boston and the (self-proclaimed) #1 Robert Eggers stan. His favorite films include mother!, The Witch, Black Swan, Hereditary and Scream. His claim to fame is a DM he got from Ari Aster (who has since left him on read) and his favorite pastime is spending the day in a cold, half-empty movie theater. You can follow him on Twitter at @ephwinslow.