By: Hawk Ripjaw (Six Pack) –
Last year was The Boy Next Door. This year is When the Bough Breaks. If we get a shitty erotic thriller every year going forward, I’d be happy.
John (Morris Chestnut) and Laura (Regina Hall) Taylor are the perfect couple. John is a lawyer (which you know because he wears a suit and goes to meetings a lot), Laura is a master chef (which you know because there’s a silent shot where she tastes a dish and says something about it). They’re so fucking rich that John’s office is its own second house, next to a guest house. They’ve got it pretty good, except that they can’t have kids. Why anyone would want to share their badass, clearly busy lives with a dirty youngling is beyond me, but they’re desperate, which is why they’re down to their last embryo in a search for a surrogate. I didn’t even know there were a finite number of embryos. They think they’ve found the perfect surrogate in Anna (Jaz Sinclair). She’s sweet and she really wants to help the couple out, with a level of enthusiasm that isn’t suspicious at all. The Taylors love her and don’t even really care that her boyfriend Mike throws up enough Asshole warning flags to probably be the president of the Chris Brown fan club. When he delivers on those flags by assaulting Anna, the Taylors decide to let her live in their home. It takes Anna approximately .025 scenes to turn into every insane femme fatale in every erotic thriller ever made as she starts to make the moves on John. He’s not into it, because if you’ve seen any Morris Chestnut movie, you know she’s not his type.
All hail Michael K. Williams, aka Omar from The Wire, who continues to make his case for a number of movies and television shows actually being part of an Omar-connected extended universe and who here plays a private investigator/exposition machine who’s just a little too good at his job to not have some Omar-esque connections. You almost expect the camera to pan over and show Naz chilling out in the corner.
Sometimes when I’m going to see a movie I know will not be good, I check the running time to gauge the extent of my suffering during the film and know when I will be set free. I forgot to do this before seeing When the Bough Breaks, so while I could reasonably guess that it was around 100 minutes, I couldn’t know for sure. And this is boring. The first half hour or so, if not longer, lumbers painfully along as it tries to fill the compulsory first act “character development” without any game plan to do it, so the first act is just filler dialogue and glamour shots of how impossibly perfect the Taylors are. They said they had to work hard at it, but you can’t even believe that because even when the deception comes to a head all John does is say “nuh-uh” and it’s all good.
One glance at Theo Rossi’s hilariously exaggerated wide-eyed performance and you can probably guess what’s going on with his character. A cursory knowledge of any erotic thriller and you know what’s going to happen to the cat. When the Bough Breaks barely attempts to hide how heavily telegraphed its plot beats are. Reveals are treated as huge revelations complete with a musical sting, and after the second time a character is hilariously shown to be hiding right behind someone, you pretty much start to expect it whenever someone enters a room alone.
The players here are less characters and more catalysts of the plot, as any reasonable human being wouldn’t do any of the things that happen here. When Laura, home alone, hears the stuffed bear tinkling out the melody of “Rock-a-Bye Baby” (because of course it does), she immediately transforms into her Scary Movie character and starts looking around the house to see what’s going on. Elsewhere, John and Omar from The Wire, upon realizing that the vindictive villain isn’t where she said she was going to be, don’t go back to the house when it’s been made pretty obvious that Laura is about to get dead, but instead waste time investigating Anna’s place. That’s not to mention John and Laura’s insistence at ignoring every single red flag of Anna being fucking crazy, or, worse recognizing the signs and blowing them off the next scene. I’d say that John’s complete inability to smell the roses would make him a bad lawyer, but all he does in the movie is get interrupted during meetings so that kind of speaks for itself way ahead of time.
Towards the end of When the Bough Breaks, something magical started to happen. Little by little, the audience started to let go and start chuckling at some of the more absurd lines, such as Anna referring to the baby to tell John that he’s “already inside her” or Mike telling Anna “I’m the brain, you’re the uterus. It finally came to a head when Laura tells John to “do whatever you need to get my baby back” in a reading that comes dangerously close to seguing into the Chili’s theme song and had the entire theater in stitches. It’s a shame that the movie couldn’t be this much fun for its entirety, and it almost feels like the filmmakers are afraid to really dive into the insanity.
After all is said and done, and Anna has gone into full Fatal Attraction crazy mode, it’s finally time for the movie to wind down and the story to tie up all of its ends. As the camera pans out to transition to a new scene, everything suddenly freezes and the credits start rolling. Wait, what? With at least one more short scene needed to close out the story, the movie decides “fuck it” and just ends right there.
From the first announcement of the plot of When the Bough Breaks, there was little doubt that it would not be good. When the first trailer dropped, I was filled with the warm fuzzy feeling I get when I can see the potential of this year’s disasterpiece on the horizon. When the Bough Breaks delivers in fits and starts, with moments of hilarious awfulness occasionally glimmering through a murky sea of boring mediocrity. Maybe next year, Shitty Erotic Thriller Subgenre.
When the Bough Breaks (2016) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: every time someone appears behind another character.
Take a Drink: whenever you hear the bear.
Do a Shot: each time you correctly predicted a twist.
Do a Shot: whenever Regina Hall pulls her Scary Movie face.
Take a Drink: every time Anna peers around a corner.