You know a horror movie failed when the mouse scurrying around the theater floor is scarier than anything on screen. This is the main thing Moviegoer writers Hannah Lazar and Shana Vaid took from Brahms: The Boy II, the unnecessary and boring sequel to the successful but mediocre-at-best The Boy from 2016. Beware of spoilers for both movies...but don’t worry about them too much. It’s not worth it.
Shana: Maybe my expectations were too high, but this film was such a disappointment. It completely subverted everything I liked about the first film.
Hannah: I didn’t have many expectations. I thought the twist of the original (which was that the doll wasn’t haunted, but there was a guy in the walls moving the doll around and stalking the main character) was confusing from a logistical sense, but interesting. I certainly didn’t expect it, and I was disappointed by the more traditional direction the sequel went.
Shana: The first film felt so creepy to me because looking back on the film in hindsight, you end up thinking about how the man was watching her through the walls and, based on the sex toy doll she finds in his room, masturbating while thinking of her, and it just feels so creepy. There’s nothing supernatural about Brahms, which makes him much scarier than a possessed doll since you can’t simply smash him. In this film, they just take that and say, “Nope, this wasn’t something that could actually happen. It was the doll all along.” It’s like how real events are scarier than fiction; the first felt scarier because it felt like it could actually happen.
Hannah: Yeah, the entire “the doll did it” trope is so tired. We already have Anabelle, and Chucky, and many others. You should only use the “haunted doll” trope if you incorporate it creatively. The only reason this film had me invested was because of the first film’s twist. Is Brahms somehow still in the walls? Nope, it was the doll, because it’s magical, and always has been, apparently. They took something interesting and novel and made it more cliché, for the sake of potentially making a franchise out of this. If this didn’t have the first movie to fall back on, I wouldn’t have given a single shit.
Shana: Yeah, if Brahms had actually survived the film then the second one could have been quite interesting. They could have even tried another genre, like making it a slasher, kind of like how Happy Death Day or Cloverfield franchises change genres each film.
Hannah: Man, if this had been Happy Death Day-level fun, I would’ve appreciated it a lot more. That movie doesn’t make much sense either (like with all time travel films), but its tone was devil-may-care enough that I could forgive it. The Boy II: Brahms, beyond the awful writing, is just so...competent. Competently presented, acted, shot, scored...it’s so functional and without any sense of wit or creative flair that it’s just boring.
Shana: Happy Death Day could be forgiven because the characters felt real. I almost cried during the second film when Tree sees her mother. This film does nothing to get you emotionally invested in the characters. While the film was made well technically, it didn’t have anything that truly made me care about the characters or feel for them. For example, I just couldn’t care about the son. I really could not give a shit if he was okay or not; his reasons for caring about the doll so much are so unclear and seem to come out of nowhere.
Hannah: It also doesn’t help that The Boy II uses trauma as a shorthand for caring about the characters. Like, yeah, it sucks that both Jude and Liza (his mother) went through a traumatic burglary, and I like the idea of making a horror movie out of that, but this film explores it in the most shallow way you can imagine. Jude is quiet for a while, and then suddenly cares about the doll. Liza (understandably) never wants to address it, but we don’t see how it actually affected her. The most that happens is that Jude is angry at her for not protecting him in the finale, but that never transforms into anything meaningful, given that the awful ending implies all this nonsense with the doll will continue.
Shana: Her trauma seems more to be a plot device for creating jump scares rather than something to be taken seriously and explored.
Hannah: It also seems like a vehicle for criticising her motherhood skills, particularly her one moment of dramatic failure - when she’s physically assaulted by a burglar in front of her son. The sight of someone who promised to protect you failing horribly would certainly be traumatizing, but the film frames it as though this is a larger problem than the fact that burglars broke into their house and attacked her. Jude is angry at her for not protecting him, and that’s why he was vulnerable to the doll’s influence, which falls into the realm of victim-blaming so bluntly I’m surprised no one else is mad about it. I can definitely see an immature child misconstruing that situation as such, but the film never counters it, or expresses any sort of self-awareness of how problematic it is, so...it just comes off as such.
Shana: I honestly did not understand the whole, “you failed to protect me” bit. Generally, you can’t expect that someone can fend off armed burglars. Also, what even was that burglary? We don’t get any details about what happened after they knocked her out, or why they decided to attack her in the first place. I would expect burglars to leave upon having the residents of the place they’re burglarizing wake up. This was just such a random and strange setup for a film about a creepy doll.
Hannah: It was also shot hilariously. Liza walks down the stairs and you see a large, motionless silhouette behind her, accompanied by a loud noise. That’s just ridiculous.
Shana: I expected the man in the background to be Brahms to be honest, and was really excited, only to be disappointed to find out that it was just burglars. I would expect something like that from Brahms, seeing as he had to have been good at staying still and silent while living in the walls, but nope, just a run of the mill burglar who is for some reason standing menacingly behind the staircase. I feel like this film had potential, but just didn’t make the effort to actually say anything meaningful or explore its themes. It feels like a cash grab.
Hannah: True. I decided to look into the earnings of the first movie, and turns out, it made 6 times its budget. I don’t doubt this film will earn its money back too; cheap horror movies, no matter how bad the reception, tend to do that. The first film also ended fairly conclusively, and this sequel answered the “why do I exist?” question with retcons in the vein of beating this dead horse to the ground until it stops bleeding out money. By making the doll possessed, it can come back over and over and over again, and by establishing the doll’s spirit survived the film, it begs for a sequel. There was also no explanation of how the doll’s possessed, or why. Maybe we’ll get an entire prequel trilogy explaining that garbage.
Shana: Who even buried that thing in the woods?
Hannah: I think it was Stephan, the hunter guy. He said he buried it so Jude would find it, because the doll predicted Jude would find him or...something? What are this doll’s abilities?!
Shana: I’m just disappointed that they actually killed off Brahms the person. He was actually terrifying as a character, and this film just threw that away in favor of a doll, which really isn’t terrifying at all. It’s a doll; just smash it and burn it. Yeah, its spirit seems to endure, but its abilities seem pretty limited.
Hannah: It seems to attach its spirit to troubled boys? Somehow? And it can create illusions, though those were unintentionally funny to me. The moment in which it violently spits bugs at Liza was so out of left field I started laughing.
Shana: Yeah, they seemed to just be making up shit as they went along; there’s no consistency in Brahm’s motivations or abilities. In the first film, Brahms was a creepy man who wanted a nanny to take care of him. In this one, it seems to be a spirit inside a doll that wants to be protected, but makes its owner murderous, but then there’s also all of the weird additions and twists that don’t really make sense or are inconsistent with what happened previously in the film. Also, what about Stephan, the man in the woods with a shotgun? That twist really just came out of nowhere. His behavior in the last twenty minutes of the film is extremely inconsistent with his character prior to the big reveal; why was he so concerned about his dog, and why did he warn the parents about the man who used to live in the wall being named Brahms if he was actually protecting the doll.
Hannah: So the film can end with a big dumb finale in which Stephan creepily floats in the air. That’s also followed by an explosion for no reason, and dramatic slow-motion. In terms of the plot, I have no idea.
Shana: What even happens to him? Does he die? Maybe I was too busy looking at the mouse on the floor of the theater to notice (it was much scarier than the film itself), but I don’t think his outcome is actually shown.
Hannah: Yeah, there was no explanation for that. Not surprising, given how the rest of the film fails to explain basic plot details, but then really makes sure you know when to be scared with obnoxious jump scares. Subtlety is a foreign concept to this movie.
Shana: I feel like a good rule of thumb is that if you need a loud noise to make something scary, it’s not actually scary. Of course, this isn’t unique to The Boy II, but the film doesn’t get a pass just because most horror films do it. You’d think that horror directors in general would notice this common criticism and make an effort to make films scary without jump scares or at least make the jump scares authentic (i.e. no loud noises, something that is actually scary).
Hannah: I agree. Jump scares are good when they’re not compensating for something that’s lacking, and in The Boy II, that’s all there is. The house isn’t especially creepy, nor the situations the characters are locked in, and it’s all further ruined by the viewer being trained to expect bad jumpscares. The worst is when Liza criticizes Jude at the dinner table, leaves for the kitchen, and then five seconds later there’s a loud noise. In the other room, the table’s overturned. Right when she left the room I was like “yup, jumpscare, loud noise,” and lo and behold! It was so predictable, so the forced surprises of the jump scares were just obnoxious.
Shana: Also, what was the point of the dog? Why would Stephan have a dog that hates the doll? It just seemed like the dog was there to emotionally manipulate the audience.
Hannah: Yeah, like everything else in the movie. It’s all shallow manipulation without bothering to be entertaining, or make sense. I don’t need every movie to be deep or explain everything perfectly, but this just felt like a waste of time. I gained nothing from the film itself, though the filmgoing experience was fun.
Shana: Yeah, the theater experience was nice, but if I’d been watching this at home or alone, I probably wouldn’t have lasted through the whole thing.