Brahms: The Boy II favors a benefit not all sequels can boast: the retaining of original creative parties. Writer Stacey Menear and director William Brent Bell both return in their respective roles after 2016’s The Boy, yet I’m not positive their initial cinematic experience left a lasting impression. Granted, Brahms’ second familial infiltration does dare to be different – by completely retconning The Boy’s canonical third act. Please, weaponize creativity, but ensure continuity flows between franchise entries. We’re not even on “Part IIV” where Brahms blasts into space or the prequel where Brahms goes to old-timey English college. You can’t even keep your storytelling straight for two consecutive films?
Brahms’ newest targets are city folk looking to escape metropolitan hustles and recent traumas. One night while Sean (Owain Yeoman) worked late, wife Liza (Katie Holmes) and son Jude (Christopher Convery) found themselves victims of a violent break-in. The event causes Jude to go mute while Liza suffers recurring nightmares, so Sean suggests skipping town for a countryside recharge. Unfortunately, they rent the Heelshire estate’s guest house, where Jude befriends reassembled Brahms – the doll – buried and waiting for another owner. New household, new rules, new danger.
Let’s just say it’s a Friday The 13th scenario where “Part II” alters the (recorded) history of, well, who’s doing the killing. Differentiation is commendable, especially when The Boy leaves room for a follow-up with generic intentions – but the lack of ambition here is as discouraging as flatlined execution. Bell’s own interview quotes suggest Brahms: The Boy II reimagines how the doll can alternately affect different families, yet backstory flashbacks still laboriously latch themselves to Brahms’ dated crime spree. The Heelshire’s are still mentioned and precise shots from The Boy’s final sequence are reused. Menear overwrites previously plotted facts like we won’t notice. It’s all very sloppy and stupifying, as Brahms once again shatters but this time with a vastly random and befuddling result.
You had two roads to follow when mapping this sequel. Either completely disconnect yourself and design something like an anthology series where Brahms: The Boy II has NOTHING to do with The Boy, or stick to your guns and return to a world rife with unfinished business. Bell tries to accomplish both, doing no favors to anyone who – like myself – rewatched The Boy in preparation for 2020’s delayed second “haunting.”
What’s worse, horror is cautiously muted given how Brahms: The Boy II projects evilness onto the doll itself. We’ve gone from “it’s a man in the walls” to “just kidding, the doll really is possessed” in a Child’s Play type switcheroo – yet Jude is still corrupted. I’m not positive why Brahms didn’t murder on his own, but that’s not what Menear’s script is here to answer nor what Bell’s vision chooses to showcase. Instead, we’re granted plenty of pitter-patter sounds as miniature custom doll shoes scamper out of sight, or Brahms’ slow spooky head turn. Horror blueprints largely occur out of frame and cannot sustain enough atmospheric dread to deliver on Liza’s subplot of sounding like a raving lunatic to her husband.
In true “underwhelming horror” fashion, there’s a bit of dimwittery about the entire narrative. A boy finds a doll in the woods, the two become inseparable, and parents idly watch as problematic shit goes down. “Plausibility” earns a modicum of good faith by Jude using Brahms as an outlet to vocalize speech for the first time in months – hence why Liza and Sean allow the devilishly handsome Brahms to stay – but let’s just say Liza shouldn’t be applying for an FBI position anytime soon.
When attempting to connect fragile Brahms to whispered tragedies of her current property’s past, she locates a “Mould” number on the doll’s foot, scribbled down as “606H.” It yields no results on some random internet database, so she crumples her authentication code and shuts her laptop. It’s at that moment I muttered to myself “turn the paper upsidedown,” and knew it’d be another thirtyish minutes – at the “perfect” climactic moment – when Liza would, indeed, realize the number is “H909.” Well, reader, let me tell you how hard I laughed when exactly that happened, just to allow for some more ignorant Brahms aggression that barely tops any Puppet Master sequel.
I’m sure Katie Holmes was drawn to the role of Liza because of the mental anguish arc of a scarred survivor, but Brahms: The Boy II isn’t bold enough to magnify a troubled mother who ignores personal health for her son’s benefit. Owain Yeoman isn’t given more than sidepiece dialogue as a “businessman” who stays late because of “deadlines” and panders to Brahms’ unbelievable personality. You’ll get one or two unsettling “creepy kid” shots as Christopher Convery goes “Full Brahms” (suit, scowl, distrust in his deceptively innocent adolescent gaze), and Ralph Ineson does his best as a purposefully vaguely-talkin’ groundskeeper who’s always carrying a loaded shotgun. They’re all just puppets under Brahms’ control; a wooden villain who attempts to rewrite his own infamy but fails in mundane fashion.
William Brent Bell is going for Victorian chills with paranormal subtext, but Brahms: The Boy II is a sensationless and forgettable homecoming. You’ll leave with more questions than answers, thanks to scripting that itself would love to bury The Boy, never again to be referenced. Brahms dares to reinvent himself, but choices do nothing except unnecessarily complicate truths that are quite certain in The Boy. Oh, and it’s also just a boring-as-sin horror tale whether you view it as an illogical sequel or humdrum standalone. A boy, his doll, and maybe a flipped dinner table or two. More like Dolly Dumbest if you ask me.
Brahms: The Boy II seems to want nothing to do with its original, which is an odd and detrimental outcome for your direct continuation of Brahms' ongoing story.