A few days ago, we posted the first piece of information from our visit to the set of Brahms: The Boy II. In it, I wrote how I, along with the other journalists on set, learned that Brahms’ porcelain mask at the end of the first The Boy was completely done using CGI in post-production. An interesting PR tactic, asking journalists to whet the appetite of readers interested in a sequel by revisiting the first film. But, I gotta say, if you were all as shocked as we were by this revelation, you’ll understand why we were all chomping at the bits to get the word out. It was one of those little secrets we were NDA-bound to hold within and releasing it was a bit of a joy.
Now that the past is behind us, it’s time to move forward to talk about Brahms: The Boy II and everything we saw on the set during our visit to Victoria, BC. We were taken to two different locations, but I’d like to start with the most atmospheric and stunning one.
Situated in the heart of Victoria, Craigdarroch Castle is placed in both The Boy and Brahms: The Boy II with considerable movie magic. In the films, the historic Victorian building appears to be in the middle of nowhere, a house as lonely and forgotten as the Heelshires themselves, blanketed by thick fog and a miasma of painful memories. However, the reality couldn’t be further from that. Craigdarroch is nestled in a quaint neighborhood where you could easily envision children running through sprinkles on front lawns as ice cream trucks lazily drive the streets. But it’s not completely cut off from the outside world. There’s a Shell gas station less than 150m away as the crow flies and it’s right off Fort St., which has adorable coffee shops and quaint mom-and-pop shops about half a kilometer to the west.
Craigdarroch is, without trying to sound hyperbolic, massive. It’s several stories tall and features a basement that is delightfully creepy, with nooks, crannies, and shadowy corners that tease the imagination. Stunning woodwork covers the walls and stairs, the carpet running along the steps held back by thin metal rods to ensure they adhere and don’t cause anyone to catch their feet and tumble down one flight after another. It’s a dizzying building, with winding corridors, twists and turns, and more rooms than are even remotely reasonable. But amidst the opulence and grandiosity, there is a strange warmth that is both inviting and unsettling. Animal heads stare down, mounted against finely crafted wooden panels. Stained glass windows are beautifully illuminated but let in little light, necessitating the use of countless lamps and fixtures. The rooms feature historic displays, all set behind ropes to emphasize that this is a “look but don’t touch” kind of place.
Walking through Craigdarroch as a horror fan, it’s impossible not to feel giddy. This is the kind of place that screams atmosphere. It exudes eeriness. It breathes with a life of its own, every creak of the stairs and groan of the floors lighting the fires of imagination as to what one of Canada’s most haunted locations has to offer.
While much of the shoot was done on a makeshift soundstage in a converted Canadian Tire (more on that below), Craigdarroch saw its fair share of action. Pretty much everything that isn’t in the basement of the Heelshire Estate was supposedly shot in the castle itself, seamlessly edited in via specific cuts, clever camera angles, and recreations on the set itself.
And that, my dear readers, takes us to the next location, where much of the magical terror happened:
Canadian Tire (but not really):
We were driven to set, which is an abandoned Canadian Tire whose parking lot is full of production vans, trucks, cars, cables, bins, and more. It’s the organized chaos of a film shoot, where everyone trusts that someone else knows precisely where everything is located. And they’re right. While untrained eyes may think they’ve stumbled across bedlam, it’s clear that this is a cohesive unit, everyone pulling their weight and doing their best so that the film shines.
Entering the building, it’s what you’d expect if you took a major grocery store and ripped out every fixture, every shelf…everything. It’s a vast open space with a ceiling probably a good 20-25ft high. Shorter than your average soundstage but still tall enough that sets can be built to factor in high ceilings or, in the case of the scenes we watched, stairs leading into the basement.
Here’s what we saw:
Katie Holmes, who plays Liza, is in the Heelshire Estate. She walks down the steps from the first floor into the cellar while holding a double-barreled shotgun. While descending, she hears a creepy, sinister humming in the distance, which we’ll learn more about shortly. The cellar looks like catacombs. The walls are flat, made of stone, with chips and chunks missing throughout. A square column stands in the middle of a major storage area with arches going off the top of the column’s sides.
As Liza looks around, she sees flickering against a wall, as though there’s a fire in another room. She slowly makes her way through the labyrinthine hallways into a large storage room, which is filled with antique furniture and strange knick-knacks. Cobwebs dangle and old chairs hang from a chain while light flows in through multiple small windows at the top of the far wall.
In the corner, a large furnace stands and fire roars behind a glass window. Jude (Chris Convery) stands with his back towards his mother, the Brahms doll cradled in his arms. She calls his name and he slowly turns to her, a sinister look on his face, his wardrobe mimicking the appearance of Brahms.
The scene cuts before we learn what happens next. Clearly, this is from the film’s climax, so they’re being very careful to not reveal the big surprise, teasing us with those moments that come right before the big drop. It’s rude but I understand where they’re coming from.
Between shots, we’re shown to two other sets that are still up. The first is Brahms’ bedroom, a room that is clearly in violation of countless building codes. Half of the walls are burnt, the fire damage extending into the room itself. A corner of the bed is charred and soot is heavy everywhere. A toy chest with half a violin case rests near the foot of the bed. Porcelain figures adorn the shelves of a desk.
This is the same bedroom from the first film, suggesting that something catastrophic happened between the two movies, although we weren’t told what.
The second set was a series of hidden passageways that are in the walls of the Heelshire Estate. A quick reminder for those who have seen the first movie: Brahms whole method of manipulating the doll – and, by extension, Greta – was by creeping throughout the house using these hidden hallways. To paint a picture of what they were like, think of Hellraiser, where wooden slats were spaced regularly but with enough room between to let light shine through. Here and there, sheet music is nailed to the wall, scores written by – you guessed it – German composer Johannes Brahms. Cobwebs stretch across, dust and dirt clinging to every strand, while decaying wires hang loosely along the walls. Maze-like, the hallways branch off in multiple directions, allowing access to rooms throughout the estate. It’s very sinister, no question.
Additionally, we were able to learn more about the real star of the film: the Brahms doll. Or rather, should I say, the Brahms dolls, as there are several. Made of silicon, there are some that weigh a mere seven pounds. Light but delicate, they are used for scenes where the doll needs to be carried. Another doll features a fully posable metal skeletal system within, driving up the weight to 17 pounds. This allows the doll to be posed, sat up, etc…
We met with costume designer, Aieisha Li, who, for some odd and unfathomable reason, took a liking to Brahms. “I liked him from the start! I got attached to him. I find him very beautiful!”
She goes into detail about the creation of Brahms from a technical standpoint, telling us, “Originally we were looking at a houndstooth fabric but, because of the camera, sometimes it can moiré. So we had to look at the fabric choices and we went with something that was neutral but wasn’t so flat gray as to be not exciting. So, we went with a flannel that we shipped from England.”
As with the first The Boy, Brahms will be a strange object where one doesn’t know if things are changing him or if he’s changing on his own. Li point specifically to his outfit, saying, “He has different ties. We mix and match ties, pocket squares, cuff links, and more.” When asked if those wardrobe changes were the result of someone doing it for Brahms or if he was self-sufficient, she coyly replied, “I think it’s mysterious. It’s open to…it could be Joseph. It could be some sort of supernatural force. Or it could be Jude!”
Still, she doesn’t shy away from hinting that the Brahms doll has a power of its own. “Jude starts off as a fun, carefree kid but after the home invasion happens we changed his look to something a little less fun. As he meets Brahms, we move his costumes to be more Brahms-like and towards the end of the movie, he becomes like a mini-me of Brahms,” she explains. Whether this is the doll’s influence or something else remains to be seen.
Li’s final cryptic clue came when we asked if the Brahms doll will somehow relate to adult Brahms, who we watched die in the first film. “There’s a little bit of a hint to the adult Brahms which we feature in the last scene,” Li stated with a knowing smile. Alas, much like Brahms who spent most of his life in hiding, we were left in the dark.
Look readers, I’m not going to lie to you. I thought the first The Boy was okay at best. I didn’t think it was god awful like some did and I didn’t think it was one of the best creepy doll movies ever made. It’s firmly in the middle and offers a good enough experience for its runtime. So am I excited for Brahms: The Boy II? Of course I am! It’s its own movie and it deserves every chance at being something really special. Horror is one of the very few genres where sequels are not only expected but can often do something really great. This is no different.