You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘When the Bough Breaks’

Generic thriller about a childless couple's unpleasant experiences with an unstable surrogate mother.

Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Romany Malco, Michael K. Williams, Theo Rossi, Jaz Sinclair.

As it trudges along a predictable path through a formulaic scenario, “When the Bough Breaks” comes across as a Lifetime cable movie that got lucky and won a lottery offering theatrical release as first prize. The presence of a predominantly African-American cast arguably is the only distinguishing characteristic of this by-the-numbers thriller about a childless couple’s unwitting employment of an unstable surrogate mother. Of course, some folks might contend that even a thoroughly ordinary film that provides gainful employment for attractive and talented pros like Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall is worth, at the very least, 106 minutes of anyone’s time. But it’s a safe bet that such charitable souls would prefer to spend that time in the comfort of their living rooms, rather than inside their friendly neighborhood multiplexes.

Chestnut and Hall are well cast as John and Laura Taylor, a New Orleans power couple — he’s a successful attorney, she’s a celebrity chef — extremely eager to become parents. But after enduring the trauma of three miscarriages, they are ready to work with an agency that matches clients with fertile surrogates. The Taylors are immediately taken with Anna (newcomer Jaz Sinclair), a beautiful young waitress who claims she loves — just loves — helping other people. Just as important, she adds, she plans to use the fee she’ll earn for her help to invest in a business venture with Mike (Theo Rossi from “Sons of Anarchy”), her Mr. Bad Vibes boyfriend.

When Mike appears to dial it up from creepy to abusive, the Taylors invite Anna to move into the guest house of their lush Garden District home. Trouble is, Anna isn’t quite as virtuous, or as harmless, as she seems. And as her pregnancy progresses, she grows ever obsessed with forming closer ties with the inconveniently married father of the baby she is carrying.

Working from a script by Jack Olsen, director Jon Cassar (“Forsaken”) dutifully endeavors to charge “When the Bough Breaks” with alternating currents of apprehension and eroticism. But despite Sinclair’s impressively smooth transition from girlish innocent to alluring sexpot, her character’s attempts at seduction fail to generate much dramatic tension, since there’s never any real doubt about John’s loyalty to Laura — primarily because Chestnut and Hall generate so much heat together. (Or at least as much heat as two semi-nude people can generate during a lovemaking scene in a PG-13 movie.)

Cassar is slightly more successful when it comes to building suspense during the mandatory scenes of violence and danger, despite his reliance on shocks, setups and payoffs best described as generic. How generic? Consider: A pet cat is pointedly acknowledged so many times in the first and second acts that only the most clueless viewers will be stunned when it’s revealed that, sometimes, nine lives are not enough.

On the other hand, it should be noted that “When the Bough Breaks” isn’t entirely bereft of surprises. In fact, this probably is the first movie ever made in which a psycho killer stops short of completing an assault because her water breaks.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'When the Bough Breaks'

Reviewed at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace Stadium 24, Houston, Sept. 9, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 106 MIN.

Production: A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems presentation of a Unique Features production. Producers: Bob Shaye, Michael Lynne. Executive producers: Morris Chestnut, Dylan Sellers, Glenn S. Gainor. Co-producer: Valerie Bleth Sharp.

Crew: Director: Jon Cassar. Screenplay: Jack Olsen. Camera (color): David Moxness. Editor: Scott Powell.

With: Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Romany Malco, Michael K. Williams, Theo Rossi, Jaz Sinclair.

More Film

  • History-of-the-Occult

    Blood Window Announces 2019 WIP and World Premiere Lineup (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ventana Sur’s Blood Window sidebar for projects and films in progress has been a standout event on the Latin horror calendar since its launch in 2013, and is one of the Buenos Aires market’s most popular sections. In the following years, it has become a key two-way conduit between Latin American and international festivals and [...]

  • Scarlett Johansson Chris Evans Actors on

    Why Chris Evans Thinks Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver Need Oscars for 'Marriage Story'

    Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”) isn’t afraid to ask for another take and she encourages young actors to do the same. Johansson revealed her thought process behind multiple takes while shooting during an intimate conversation with Chris Evans (“Knives Out”) for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” “I feel like if you have an idea — and [...]

  • 'Harriet' Movie: Why It Doesn't Mention

    Why 'Harriet' Doesn't Mention the $20 Bill

    In “Harriet,” directed and co-written by Kasi Lemmons, Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery, joined the Underground Railroad and then freed more than 70 people from slavery. (Spoilers about the movie ahead.) Though Tubman died in 1913 at age 91, the movie ends during the Civil War, with Tubman leading a troop of [...]

  • Frank Grillo Maggie Q

    Frank Grillo, Maggie Q to Star in Thriller 'Cutman' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Frank Grillo and Maggie Q will star in “Cutman,” a dramatic thriller directed by Michael Mailer and written by Tiffany Heath. Grillo will play an over-the-hill boxer who begins working as the muscle for a local gangster. His life takes an unexpected turn when he meets a young girl whose mother is a heroin addict [...]

  • Jamie Foxx Renee Zellweger Shuzhen Zhao

    Oscar Predictions 2019: Breaking Down the Early Frontrunners

    The Oscar race is on. Renée Zellweger is a sure bet to snag a nomination for her transformation in “Judy” and Adam Driver looks certain to be a nominee for his work in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” In the lead for best picture are movies including “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and [...]

  • Chris Evans Actors on Actors: Film

    Chris Evans Wants to Direct Again, but Needs a Better Script

    Chris Evans (“Knives Out”) is dying to direct a film, he just doesn’t have the material. Evans, who made his directorial debut in 2014 with “Before We Go,” revealed what’s holding him back from a sophomore film — and much more — during a conversation with former co-star Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”) for “Variety Studio: [...]

  • Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Winners 2019

    'Apollo 11,' Bruce Springsteen Among Winners of Critics' Choice Documentary Awards

    “Apollo 11” was the big winner at the fourth annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards on Sunday in New York City. The film took home the award for documentary feature, as well as editing for Todd Douglas Miller and score for Matt Morton. “Apollo 11” was also honored with archival documentary and science/nature documentary prizes. There [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content