When the Bough Breaks (2016)
Studio: Sony Pictures
Release date: December 27th, 2016
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Note: here's my review of When the Bough Breaks from earlier this year.
I realize I’ve done my fair share of venerating Bob Shaye, but it occurs to me that one really can’t do that enough. For nearly fifty years, Shaye has dedicated himself to the cause of cinema, specifically that realm of independent (and sometimes disreputable) genre output. We should never forget that he had a hand in spreading the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and A Nightmare on Elm Street to the masses. That’s a hell of a resume even if you don’t account for the fact that his success eventually built New Line Cinema into a major industry force. When he was ousted as head honcho there in 2008, you couldn’t have blamed him if he hung it up right there—certainly, he had nothing more to prove after five decades in the business as an actor, producer, and director.
But luckily, he didn’t quite see it that way, as he and former New Line cohort Michael Lynne formed Unique Features, a new production company that will hopefully allow the duo to reestablish themselves in the coming years. If I’m being honest, their attachment personally one of the bigger selling points for When the Bough Breaks; well, that and the trailers promised some absolutely crazy shit in the vein of the trashy Skinemax thrills of the 90s, which were almost certainly the heyday of the erotic thriller. I was unabashedly and un-ironically looking forward to this one for all of these reasons, only to be a bit let down by the final product.
Most disconcerting is just how utterly bland the whole thing is. Less a reinvigoration (or even a homage) of those 90s standards, it’s more reheated leftovers of Fatal Attraction and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. John and Laura Taylor (Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall) desperately want to have a child and have turned to Anna (Jaz Sinclair), a surrogate who’s almost too eager to help them realize their dream. It takes all of a few days for Anna to reveal she’s really in it because she’s got the hots for John, and she’ll stop at nothing to have him for herself.
Utterly auto-piloted from its opening frame, When the Bough Breaks doesn’t dare stray from the formula; even worse, hardly anyone feels compelled to truly indulge in the formula or spice it up in any way. Some brief flourishes—almost all of them found in the deviously glimmer of Sinclair’s eyes—faintly hint at a better movie than the one that stuffily unfolds here. There’s a brief moment when it has the gall to complicate matters by introducing a subplot involving Anna’s scheming boyfriend (Theo Rossi, gloriously unhinged), but it’s all an elaborate setup to just confirm that she’s not fucking around with anyone. She has no time for money when she’s got all these obvious daddy issues to resolve.
It’s unfortunate that they’re resolved in the most restrained manner imaginable. My enduring memory of When the Bough Breaks is waiting for it to really hit a higher gear and provide some semblance of over-the-top camp and then being befuddled when it just suddenly quit. In many cases, it’d be commendable for a movie to show restraint; however, in this case, When the Bough Breaks seems to be doing so out of denial. It’s almost as if director Jon Cassar doesn’t want to admit the pulpy nature of this junk thriller, which perhaps would be fine if he were invested in anything else. Instead, the characters are mostly non-entities, empty vessels that are being dragged through some mild twists and turns. The only one with any kind of spark is Sinclair’s Anna, and even she’s the umpteenth riff on the preternaturally psychosexual female trope (as written and directed by men, of course).
That’d be forgivable if Cassar at least allowed this character to wander way out into the absurd, lurid depths of this genre rather than remaining content to just have her dip her toes. By the end of the overly familiar 107-minute runtime here, that Unique Features moniker starts to feel ironic because you’ve certainly seen this before—and executed in superior fashion to boot.
Just three months after bowing in theaters, When the Bough Breaks makes its home video debut courtesy of Sony Pictures. The Blu-ray disc is solid enough, as it boasts a fine presentation, complete with a virtually flawless transfer and a dynamic DTS-HD MA audio track. Save for a commentary with Cassar, Sinclair, and writer Jack Olsen, the supplements are a bit light: “The Haves and the Have Nots” is an 8-minute fluff featurette featuring the cast and Cassar, who positions the film as a “what would you do in this situation?” thriller, an angle I hadn’t quite considered (perhaps because I am not sure this is the most relatable or common situation, unless there’s an abundance of insane child-bearing surrogates out there).
Eighteen minutes of deleted and extended scenes round out the disc, with most of them having rightfully been dropped from the main feature. The couple of them give Sinclair some extra moments to explore Anna’s delusion, but even they’re a bit redundant. What you won’t find is any evidence that When the Bough Breaks was compromised at all: just like the main feature, this deleted material reveals a stilted, stuffy, talky affair that never roars to those delirious, trashy heights that remain far out of reach. Suffice it to say that I don't think anyone will be referring to Unique Features as "The House that Anna Built" anytime soon. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: