Review: When the Bough Breaks (2016)

When the Bough Breaks (2016)

Directed by: Jon Cassar | 102 minutes | crime, drama, horror, thriller | Actors: Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Romany Malco, Michael Kenneth Williams, Glenn Morshower, Theo Rossi, Jaz Sinclair, GiGi Erneta, Tom Nowicki, Denise Gossett

Disturbed women, stalking women, unpredictable women, obsessive women. In the nineties in particular, thrillers were continuously released in which they played the leading role. Think for example of ‘Single White Female’ and ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ (both from 1992) and ‘The Crush’ (1993). Also ‘Fatal Attraction’ (1987) with Michael Douglas and Glenn Close fits perfectly in that vein. To the long line of films starring female psychopaths, we can now add ‘When the Bough Breaks’ (2016). Here it is not a nanny or a teen in love who is going crazy, but a surrogate mother who used to proclaim how much she enjoys being able to help another and admits with a smile from ear to ear that it is wonderful to have something that someone otherwise like. The director is in the hands of Jon Cassar, who mainly has episodes of TV series and television films on his resume. Perhaps that’s why ‘When the Bough Breaks’ often gives us the feeling that it was made for the small screen. Because despite the fact that attention (and money) has clearly gone into the look of the film, it’s hard to shake the impression that you’re watching a TV movie.

John Taylor (Morris Chestnut, also producer) and his wife Laura (Regina Hall) seem to be doing well; he can become a partner at the law firm where he works and she is a famous chef. They live in a beautiful mansion in the richest part of New Orleans and are madly in love with each other. Only one aspect of their lives is missing: John and Laura would love to seal their love with a child, but after three miscarriages, the chances of having a baby seem lost. They only have one viable embryo left, so they are desperately looking for a surrogate mother. It is found in 21-year-old Anna (debutant Jaz Sinclair), a girl who smiles timidly. When Laura invites her and her boyfriend Mike (Theo Rossi) to dinner to get to know each other better, John discovers that Mike is a nasty bastard who also beats his girlfriend. To protect her – and their unborn child – John brings Anna into the house, she can easily live in the gigantic guest house for those nine months. Laura and Anna grow closer, even going to yoga together. But Anna turns out to have a hidden agenda. Moreover, she has her sights set on John. Her ultimate goal is to be with both John and his baby. She becomes increasingly bold and pushy in his presence, and John struggles to resist her temptation. However, he turns out to be the righteous kind and makes it clear to Anna once and for all that he has no intention of leaving Laura. However, Anna is not the type to accept rejection…

‘When the Bough Breaks’ was completely slammed by the American film press and for the most part rightly so. Jack Olsen’s screenplay is predictable and full of clichés (that cat, we can see that coming for miles!). And if we don’t see it coming, we hear about it, thanks to the lavish score that leaves little to the imagination. Moreover, credibility is often hard to find. A heavily pregnant Anna who smashes the baby’s room and ends up in a scuffle with John shortly after giving birth, every woman who has brought a child into the world will watch with a shake of her head. The characters are quite flat, although John and Laura certainly don’t seem unsympathetic. The film has quite a bit of entertainment value. This is mainly due to the way Cassar manages to build up the tension. The chemistry between Chestnut and Hall is also okay (although that is also a flaw in a certain way: you don’t believe for a moment that John will leave his wife for the young Anna). The casting of the inexperienced Sinclair was a gamble, which unfortunately doesn’t work out well. She is not convincing as a femme fatale, nor in depicting the development of her character. Michael K. Williams appears in a small but crucial role. It’s always nice to see him in action, but his role seems to have been dragged in just to let us know about Anna’s past. Shame on such a great actor!

Clichés that pile up, unbelievable moments and a femme fatale that is completely out of the picture; the list of comments on ‘When the Bough Breaks’ is endless. Nevertheless, the film manages to entertain us with a convincing and sympathetic central duo and a gripping build-up of tension. Don’t think too much and look through the improbabilities, then this mediocre thriller is still quite acceptable.

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