Review: 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

Mad women, stalking women, unpredictable women, obsessive women. Particularly in the nineties, thrillers were released continuously in which they played the leading role. Consider, for example, “Single White Female” and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” (both from 1992) and “The Crush” (1993). “Fatal Attraction” (1987) with Michael Douglas and Glenn Close also fits perfectly in that vein. We can now add “When the Bough Breaks” (2016) to the long line of films starring female psychopaths. Here it is not a nanny or teenage girl in love who is going crazy, but a surrogate mother who previously proclaimed how wonderful she was to be able to help someone else and admits with a smile from ear to ear that she is thrilled to have something someone otherwise like. The direction is in the hands of Jon Cassar, who mainly has episodes of TV series and television movies on his resume. Perhaps that’s why “When the Bough Breaks” often makes us feel like we were made for the small screen. Because despite the fact that attention (and money) has clearly been paid to the look of the film, it is difficult to avoid the impression that you are watching a TV movie.

John Taylor (Morris Chestnut, also producer) and his wife Laura (Regina Hall) seem to be doing great; he can become a partner at the law firm where he works and she is a celebrity chef. They live in a beautiful mansion in the richest part of New Orleans and love 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 and so they are eagerly 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, John discovers that Mike is an annoying bastard who also beats his girlfriend. To protect her – and their unborn child – John brings Anna into the house, she can live in the gigantic guesthouse for nine months. Laura and Anna grow closer to each other, even go to yoga together. But Anna turns out to have a hidden agenda. In addition, she has set her sights on John. Her ultimate goal is to be with both John and his baby. She becomes increasingly bold and pushy in front of him, and John struggles to resist her temptation. However, he turns out to be the righteous kind and makes it clear to Anna once 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 gutted by the American movie press, and for the most part it is quite right. Jack Olsen’s scenario is predictable and full of clichés (that cat, we see that coming miles away, of course!). And if we don’t see it coming, we’ll hear 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 a child in the world will see with a shaking head. The characters are quite flat, although John and Laura are by no means unsympathetic. The film has quite an entertainment value. This is mainly due to the way in which Cassar manages to build up the tension. The chemistry between Chestnut and Hall is also okay (although in a way that is also a flaw: you never believe that John will abandon his wife for young Anna). The casting of the inexperienced Sinclair was a gamble, which unfortunately did not work out well. She is not convincing as a femme fatale, nor in depicting the development that her character is going through. Michael K. Williams appears in a small but pivotal role. It’s always nice to see him in action, but his role seems to have been dragged along just to bring us up to date on Anna’s past. A shame for such a great actor!

Clichés that pile up, unbelievable moments and a femme fatale that does not show up at all; 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 catchy tension build-up. Don’t think too much and look through the improbabilities, then this mediocre thriller is still reasonable to prune.

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