Review of “Brahms: The Boy 2”

While Sean (Owain Yeoman) was working late on a project, his wife Liza (Katie Holmes) and son Jude (Christopher Convery) are attacked in their London flat during a home invasion. Liza suffers a concussion and Jude is so traumatized he stops speaking, communicating by writing message on a pad he wears around his neck. The family decides they need to take a break from the city and rent a guest house on the Heelshire property. The Heelshire home has been vacant since the murders that took place there a few years earlier. A speculator bought the house and attempted to turn it into luxury condos, but various delays caused him to abandon the project. While the family is strolling through the woods, Jude is drawn away from his parents toward a patch of ground with a porcelain hand sticking up from the dirt. Digging in the soft ground, Jude finds an antique doll that he calls Brahms. Liza cleans up Brahms and he becomes Jude’s constant companion. During another walk with Liza, Jude finds a box with clothes for the doll. They also meet Joseph (Ralph Ineson) and his dog, a German Sheppard named Oz. Joseph describes himself as a caretaker of the grounds. Oz growls at Brahms and Jude. Strange events occur in the vacation home with a TV turning itself on, unexplained footsteps and voices, and Liza’s nightmares involving Brahms. Is there more to this doll than just a creepy dead stare?

“Brahms: The Boy 2” is a sequel to the financially successful but critically derided “The Boy” from 2016. Both films heavily feature a lifelike antique doll and the odd events that occur in its vicinity. I hadn’t seen “The Boy” prior to its sequel, but out of curiosity, I rented it after I watched the follow up. While both films share the same director and writer, I was shocked at how the creative team seemed to have forgotten what happened in the first film while making the second. And aside from that, the sequel is painfully dull and doesn’t follow its own rules.

“Brahms: The Boy 2” implies the child of the married couple is already a little twisted before meeting the doll as he enjoys scaring his mother. In the opening scene, Katie Holmes’ Liza walks in their home and Jude can be seen in the openings between the stairs. It’s that classic horror movie scene where the victim walks in the room and the villain is slightly out of focus in the background, then walks out of the shot. In this instance, this sets up Jude frightening his mother, something he was taught to do by his father. Jude takes an abundance of joy in scaring his mother and that’s supposed to set up the audience for what’s to come. However, the film doesn’t work that hard to frighten us for the rest of the scant 86-minute run time. The only other time the audience might feel a surge of adrenalin is when Joseph’s dog barks when we meet he and Oz for the first time. No other moment in the film comes close to providing any sort of thrill after that.

Precious little happens in “Brahms: The Boy 2.” After the home invasion in the opening minutes and a child being impaled on a sharp stick midway or so, there isn’t much going on in the film. Katie Holmes struggles mightily to look concerned, confused and frightened by all the nothingness going on around her. It’s a losing battle. Holmes and the rest of the cast are trying to swim upstream with both hands and one leg tied behind their backs. All they can do is flop around as artistically as possible. It’s not pretty to watch.

If you haven’t seen “The Boy” and plan to, you will want to skip this paragraph as there will be spoilers for the 2016 original. You’ve been warned. Ready?

SPOILERS

In the final act of “The Boy,” we learn Brahms, the actual child of the Heelshires, survived the fire that was thought to have killed him and was living in the walls of the home wearing a porcelain mask similar to the doll. Actions that appeared to be done by the doll, or a spirit living in the doll, were done by the now nearly 30-year-old Brahms. There was nothing supernatural about the strange events. In “Brahms: The Boy 2,” the living Brahms is nowhere to be found and everything happening around the doll may be supernatural. Scenes from the first film are repurposed for the sequel while also retconning the story to make it fit. The way this film ends it makes it appear there is something else that channels the otherworldly forces at work. The film’s writer, Stacey Menear, apparently doesn’t mind changing or ignoring the rules of her own creation for the sake of expediency. Retconning is common in long-running genre franchises. Major and minor tweaks to the history of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and the “X-Men” franchises don’t seem to have hurt the desire of audiences to keep watching their favorite characters. Sometimes there is online fanboy outrage, but people keep buying tickets and the world keeps turning. However, when you are only two films into what is hoped to be an ongoing series, you can’t be taking an eraser to your too brief history.

“Brahms: The Boy 2” is rated PG-13 for terror, violence, disturbing images and thematic elements. Terror, not so much. We see hot candle wax thrown in a character’s face. A character is hit in the head with the butt of a shotgun. A woman is attacked in her home by two masked men. She fights back but is struck in the head and knocked unconscious. We see a boy bullying Jude about his mental issues after the attack. A child is shown impaled on a sharp stick. The carcass of a dead animal is shown in the forest. Disturbing images are shown in Liza’s dreams.

Maybe the writer was out of ideas. Maybe the deadline crept up and the creative team played word association games to get the script done (the release date was moved back twice). Maybe the studio wanted to get another inexpensive film in the same universe out in theaters hoping no one would care it wasn’t very good. “Brahms: The Boy 2” is worse than not very good, it’s boring. It’s less than 90 minutes long but feels like more than two hours. I give a film the benefit of the doubt if I get the impression the makers actually tried, but this pitiful sequel feels like those in charge gave up and slapped some scenes together so they could move on to the next project. They fulfilled their contractual obligations, cashed their checks and the audience be damned. I know movies are mostly about making money, but they should also be about not insulting the paying audience. On that front, the makers of “Brahms: The Boy 2” failed miserably.

“Brahms: The Boy 2” gets one dim star out of five.

Only one new film is opening in wide release this week, but there some interesting arthouse films that I might need to see as well. I’ll review at least one of the following:

The Assistant—

The Invisible Man—

The Lodge—

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Witch”

At a mid-17th century British settlement in New England, a family is banished because of the father’s deeply held religious beliefs and how they clash with the town elders. William (Ralph Ineson) takes his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their five children with all their belongings on the back of a horse-drawn cart into the wilderness to start anew. Finding a suitable plot of level ground near a stream, the family builds a small house, barn and stable and plants a crop of corn. While watching her baby brother Sam, eldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is playing a game of peek-a-boo when a witch (Bathsheba Garnett) who lives in the nearby woods takes the boy and uses his blood to bathe in. Thomasin didn’t see the witch take Sam and believes he was snatched up by a wolf. On top of this loss, their corn is struck with blight and doesn’t produce enough to hold them through the winter. Katherine begins to believe the family is cursed. William takes oldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) out on a secret hunt into the woods as Katherine believes them to be haunted. There they check traps William had already set but find them empty. Later, Caleb and Thomasin secretly go out to check the traps again but get separated. Caleb stumbles upon the home of the witch and she appears to him as a beautiful woman. They kiss but it’s a trap and Caleb goes missing. Thomasin stumbles home and is questioned about where she and Caleb went. Being evasive with her answers leads Katherine to believe Thomasin might be a witch and responsible for the calamity that has befallen them.

Anyone heading to see “The Witch” expecting it to be a standard horror flick will be in for a surprise. Whether that’s a pleasant or unpleasant surprise depends on your willingness to accept the movie for what it is. I have yet to piece together exactly what I believe “The Witch” to be for myself. I can tell you what it isn’t: It’s not like anything you’ve seen in recent memory.

In a title card that comes up in the closing credits we learn much of the dialog for the film was taken from journals, newspaper accounts and trial transcripts from the time. The language of “The Witch” can be a bit difficult to follow as it is undiluted Olde English. Careful attention will find the viewer being able to figure out the meaning if not the exact words used in a scene.

Understanding what’s going on in some of these scenes is due largely to an extremely talented cast of largely unknowns. These actors are committed to bringing life and emotion to these characters. Ralph Inesdon, Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Dickie are the backbone of this troupe and they deliver performances that are riveting. The tone and cadence of Ineson’s speaking voice is nearly melodic. His gravely bass voice adds an air or legitimacy and gravitas to his words. Kate Dickie is capable of running the gamut from loving mother to shrieking shrew and making each extreme believable. Anya Taylor-Joy is an angelic beauty. Her wide-eyed innocence makes the events that swirl around her seem especially unfair. We side with Thomasin as she faces unfounded allegations, wanting her to break free and suddenly be transported to a place and time where she can live in peace. The entire cast does an amazing job at making us both love and hate them as they try to survive.

Living in a time and under conditions none of us could imagine, this family must work together and constantly put aside thoughts of self. None of the players is shown in the best light or wearing the nicest clothes. This is a time of drudgery, of hard work and no guarantee of survival. Once they are banished, any meager support they might have had from their community is gone. There is no market just down the street and no doctor. The actors and the setting combine to give the movie a feeling of isolation that makes the growing paranoia amongst the adults almost understandable.

Despite all that’s right with the movie, “The Witch” still fails to do what any good horror film should and that’s scare the audience. While I enjoyed the history lesson, the efforts of the actors, the production design, the soundtrack and the film as a whole, it has no scares. It effectively builds tension with discordant music and sudden blackouts but never delivers the kind of scare today’s modern horror audience craves. While there are moments when seeing a shadowy figure standing in the woods as a character walks by oblivious seemed appropriate or even necessary, none of these moments or any other Horror Movie 101 events occur. Director and writer Robert Eggers appears to believe a spooky atmosphere and the occasional glimpse of a naked old woman is frightening enough; however, it isn’t. Eggers probably believes the horror is the paranoia and religious fundamentalism of the mother and father and how they begin to suspect Thomasin is witch and plan to have her tried back at the village. This is certainly horrifying in its own way but doesn’t lead to a quickening of the pulse or the gripping of the arms of your theatre chair. That’s more akin to hearing a political candidate make promises in a speech that are clearly unconstitutional and hearing his audience cheer.

“The Witch” is rated R for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity. Much of the more gory violence occurs in shadow and is suggested rather than shown; however, we do see the witch stirring up a red, chunky mixture that we assume is the remains of the baby then bathing herself and a stick with the substance. A man is gored to death by an animal. A character is stabbed to death. A character is picked at by a crow, drawing blood. We see the witch, again obscured mostly by shadow, fully nude. There is a ring of nude women dancing around a fire. There is no foul language.

The frightening parts of “The Witch” are mostly psychological. The longer the family is separated from not only the village but from their roots in England, the more they begin to turn on each other. Initially finding strength in their faith, it is turned into a weapon to explain their situation and place blame where it doesn’t belong. While the witch of the title is ultimately responsible for this family’s doom, they have been coming apart at the seams for a while. I’m sure the filmmakers probably want “The Witch” to be viewed as more of an allegory for modern life and allowing fear to turn us against each other. In that sense the movie is a success. As a horror film, “The Witch” is mostly interesting to watch but doesn’t provide any memorable scares. While there are things that go bump in the night, they are metaphors for racism and power-hungry politicians. While scary, it’s not what most people are looking for in a horror movie.

“The Witch” gets two stars out of five.

This week, the story of a lovable loser, clashing gods and a bank heist hit theatres. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Eddie the Eagle—

Gods of Egypt—

Triple 9—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.