Stars: Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Jaz Sinclair, Theo Rossi, Romany Malco, Michael Kenneth Williams, Glenn Morshower, GiGi Erneta, Tom Nowicki | Written by Jack Olsen | Directed by Jon Cassar
John and Laura Taylor (Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall) are a young, professional couple who desperately want a baby. After exhausting all other options, they finally hire Anna (Jaz Sinclair), the perfect woman to be their surrogate – but as her pregnancy progresses, so too does her psychotic and dangerous fixation on John. The couple becomes caught up in Anna’s deadly game and must fight to regain control of their future before it’s too late.
Helming dozens of TV shows over a two decade period, director John Cassar has a very interesting resume. From the Hulk Hogan feature The Ultimate Weapon in 1998, through his most recent effort, the brand new series of 24, 24: Legacy, it also turns out Cassar has been one of the men behind some of my favourite TV shows of the 1990s. With When the Bough Breaks Cassar seems to have stepped back into that decade to craft a thriller that echoes the likes of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Diabolique, Fear and Single White Female. You know the type: 90s movies that mixed psychological thrills with sexual ones… crafting stories of twisted psyches that have seemingly died out in the years since.
Sadly When the Bough Breaks never reaches the manic insanity of the classic psycho-sexual thrillers of the 90s. It starts out strong, but everyone involved seems unwilling to let the film go to any sort of extremes, the kinds of which would have pushed the film from TV-quality drama to a must-see psychological thriller… Though the final twenty minutes do contain to quite the crazy crescendo, even if it is all over too briefly.
It doesn’t help that the characters seem to change motivations from one minute to the next. Anna switches from a sweet, innocent “victim” – pushed into the surrogacy by her abusive boyfriend in an effort to score a huge amount of money – to a slutty home-wrecker, who tries to seduce John at each and every turn. Anna’s motivation changes multiple times over the course of the film, so much so that it’s hard to know what her real story is. Which, to be fair, actually held my interest early on – trying to figure out the who, what and why of the character is easily the most compelling aspect of When the Bough Breaks. Although any question about Anna’s psychological state, motivation, etc., is thrown out the window when The Wire‘s Michael Kenneth Williams – an investigator for John’s law firm – pops up to explain all we need to know about her.
By the same token Regina Hall’s Laura starts out as an eager mother, but it turns out she is as cold-hearted as Anna, focussing on her career and business rather than her husband and upcoming family – leaving John at home to deal with the crazy that is Anna. Laura’s action are like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey and NOT expecting him to eat it. At least John doesn’t succumb to temptation and sleep with Anna, which is the most refreshing thing about When the Bough Breaks. However John remaining faithful and NOT sleeping with the enemy (*cough*) is the only cliche this film doesn’t rehash.
Whilst When the Bough Breaks does retread each and every trope and cliche of the genre, there are signs of something greater here: the odd flourish in Anna’s cracked psyche – her a tendency to enjoy knives, scissors and razor blades a little TOO much; some great sexual tension between Chesnut and Sinclair; and a soundtrack that plays out more like a horror film than psychological thriller. But ultimately it’s still all very much “been there, done that” for this film…
When the Bough Breaks is out now on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.