For an hour and some change, Brahms: The Boy II operates on a respectably high horror level, following a similar blueprint for success established by its creepy-doll series-starter, The Boy (2016).
The return of the previous film’s director William Brent Bell and writer Stacey Menear helps ensure that consistency, one rooted in the eponymous porcelain doll that may or may not be possessed, and the psychological torment its “actions” cause the humans unlucky enough to be in its vicinity.
Brahms’ new victims are Liza (Katie Holmes) and her son Jude (Christopher Convery, adding to the long cinematic tradition of creepy kids). Their fraught recovery from a home invasion that’s left her with vivid nightmares — often accompanied by sleepwalking and screaming — and him mute, communicating via a sketchpad, smartly injects the familiar premise with fresh tension.
Along with patriarch Sean (Owain Yeoman, American Sniper), the family leaves their London flat to seek refuge in the country, but — true to genre form — fail to Google the grisly history of the neighborhood, specifically the Heelshire Mansion, where The Boy took place and in whose guest house they’ve taken residence.
After Jude is inexplicably drawn to a spot in the woods, unearths Brahms and starts to emerge from his trauma-induced silence — mainly via “conversations” with the doll — the series’ suspenseful charms reemerge in full force. Weird things happen that Jude credits to Brahms, his parents grow confused and question their sanity, and viewers familiar with The Boy await a payoff in line with the revelations gleaned during its big finale.
Instead, Bell and Menear abandon their winning formula and opt for eye-rolling layers of ho-hum mythology as the best way to set up a third film. The jarring about-face is a stretch within this carefully constructed world, contradicts much of The Boy and comes close to invalidating it.
If that’s the direction this series is going to take, it’s best to pretend that Brahms never happened and that The Boy’s open-ended conclusion is the true final chapter.