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The disturbed home-wrecker genre has seen its fair share of bad movies and that’s a trend that is unlikely to change, the plot and premise so deeply set, to think of altering it would seem sacrosanct. And When The Bough Breaks, a title itself so ham-fisted and obvious, going right in, one isn’t really thinking this is about to set a new standard but rather play right into the tropes with absolute abandon. One wouldn’t be wrong. This is a paint-by-number thriller that is about as deep as the nursery rhyme it steals its title from.
John Taylor (Morris Chestnut) and his wife Laura (Regina Hall) play the beautiful young couple, living well and dutifully happy but are having trouble turning the page to the next step in their lives. Unable to conceive, they hire young, beautiful Anna (Jaz Sinclair) from an agency, who seems perfect for the job and indeed, she is equally willing. Despite a questionable relationship with her boyfriend Mike (Theo Rossi), who ought to have sent up a few red flags, they proceed with a plan to have Anna carry their child.
Naturally, things get twisty. When a domestic altercation with Mike leaves Anna fearful, John and Laura ask her to move in with them, and if you’ve ever seen a movie in your life, you know right away what happens next. Anna, even while agreeing to be a surrogate, has more desires to be with John and an unhealthy obsession starts that puts the stalwart, rigidly faithful John to task. Then, when John’s detective friend (Michael K. Williams) does a little digging on the highly-flirtatious Anna, he uncovers some seedy secrets and it’s not long before the couple are caught up in a deadly mix between the courts and Anna’s crazed schemes.
Directed by Jon Cassar, When the Bough Breaks doesn’t lack for personality, as the three leads firmly embody the roles they are assigned, all three giving solid performances that are the very definition of each part, with Sinclair, seemingly embracing the femme fatale with a bit of glee. Yet this is part of the problem as these are cardboard cutouts by this point and while all are supremely attractive to look at, they are paper thin and have little hope in staying compelling characters. Making it worse is the production, which is so rigidly standard, with every jump scare and dramatic action broadcast well-ahead of itself with a generic score and clichéd storytelling, there is no tension in the already predictable plot.
There’s a bit of freshness in painting Anna from the start as unstable, with her and Mike creating a charade that leads her to the Taylor’s home, and we are meant to guess to the length and depth of her plan throughout, wondering how extensive her act is and when it’s in play and when it’s not. But logic is perhaps the most egregiously violated victim in all of this with John, meant to be a very successful lawyer who seems unaware of the law, and an agency that is designed to vet prospects for would-be parents that wholesale misses what should have denied her from the start, no matter the superficial excuses the movie tries to make in covering that up. Sure, I get it, sometimes movies are just vehicles to put shiny people in fun and thrilling situations for mindless entertainment, but does that mean at the sacrifice of all creativity? Yes. Yes is does, seems the resounding reply.
But worse though is the casual ugliness to it all, especially in how it paints a pregnant woman being ‘hormonal’ and as excuse for her increasingly erratic and violent behavior, as if the two are connected. While we are meant to blame the Taylor’s for their ignorance, it’s still uncomfortably presented and the whole manner in which these three people interact is just to blunt to matter. There are some talented people behind and in this film but they are wasted here.
Director: Jon Cassar
Writers: Jack Olsen
Stars: Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Jaz Sinclair, Romany Malco
Genre: Thriller, Drama