Be careful what you wish for.
A few weeks ago, I was beating my chest about how the new The Grudge movie didn’t satisfy by hungry lust for a truly bad horror film. And, well, I think that I have finally had that famine sated.
Brahms: The Boy II was never really going to be a good film. A sequel to the marginally okay 2016 film The Boy, it was too tantalising to turn down: when I saw that 11% Rotten Tomatoes score, its siren call rang in my ears, and I knew that I had no choice but to see it.
And guys, really, honestly – this film is fucking dreadful. It’s the kind of astonishingly bad piece of cinema that feels as though it’s so distantly removed from good it almost never came close. The story is incoherent, huge hunks of the script apparently sheared out leaving gaping plot holes in their wake; the scares, should be bestow upon them a title as lofty as that, mostly boil down to the camera focusing on a spooky doll, cutting away, and then cutting back to the doll having moved an inch.
The jump-scares are announced fifteen minutes before their arrival, and some don’t even bother to turn up at all – in one particularly memorable instance, the music swells to match a visual cue that never bothers to show up on-screen. The script is bafflingly awful at times, so terrifically bad that I’m sure that I’ll spend more time writing this article than writer Stacey Menear did editing that screenplay. Bad horror has a particular place in my heart, and this is just one of those inimitably low-effort outings that the genre is studded with; get a few beers, get a few friends, and this is a moderately good night in.
But, you know, while I was watching it, I couldn’t help but think about what differentiates a bad film from a just awful one. Because Brahms is one of the latter, without a shadow of a doubt. But what defines it as something truly, memorably bad is the fact that, buried somewhere in here, there is something good.
Wasted potential is what truly defines a terrible movie. You look at something like Geostorm, which has a bunch of problems, and you have to admit that it didn’t squander the potential of what it promised – Gerard Butler versus Weather Itself. What it promised, it delivered. I left the cinema satisfied with what I had seen, and not expecting an inch more than what I had been given.
But where Brahms turns from a bad movie into a dreadful one are those moments where it shows a flash of promise. The plot revolves around a familial trauma that leaves the members of this family more vulnerable to invasion by malevolent forces; I mean, that’s the same premise the critically-acclaimed Hereditary used, for goodness sake, and it provides a reasonably compelling central conflict before the movie goes screaming off the rails. Katie Holmes, as the mother at the centre of it, gives it the old college try, committed to her performance and re-creating the trauma of what she has been through. Ralph Ineson, a tremendous actor who has proved himself in the horror genre with his brilliant work in The VVitch, is giving his character well over a hundred percent, to the point where he’s literally slurping up his own spittle through most of his scenes.
There’s pedigree here, is what I’m saying. Glimmers of effort, of idea, of something more. Maybe this film was never going to be a classic, but it could have been better than this. So, I’ll be more careful in wishing for a terrible horror movie next time around – I’ll wish for one that was never going to be good in the first place. Because Brahms might be dreadful, but fuck it, it could have been something at least worthwhile, something that didn’t waste the pedigree of talent it had on show here. And that’s the really scary thing in the middle of all these failed jump-scares and bad music cues.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Roger Ebert)