When the Bough Breaks is destined to draw comparisons to the 2009 Idris Elba-Beyoncé Knowles film Obsessed, as well as other modern thrillers featuring unhinged femme fatales. Yet this movie is also intent on following its own path, one that mirrors the development of its alluring antagonist, Anna Walsh (portrayed by relative newcomer Jaz Sinclair), from seemingly innocent to dark and demented. Anna agrees to act as a surrogate for John (Morris Chestnut) and Laura Taylor (Regina Hall), a successful and well-adjusted couple who want to have a baby. After a miscarriage the year prior, the couple are eager for a second chance at happiness; one assumes that’s the reason why they look past Anna’s outlandishly sketchy boyfriend Mike (Theo Rossi).
He becomes impossible to ignore, however, when his behavior escalates into domestic abuse, prompting the couple to invite Anna to live in their guesthouse. Yet Mike still remains in the picture, as he tries to convince his lover to go along with his scheme to use the pregnancy to extort as much money as possible from John and Laura. Anna, for her part, threatens to derail his plans when she falls in love with John.
Sinclair displays undeniable talent as the disturbed axis on which the film rotates, using her perceived innocence as a means of seduction. Unfortunately, the movie struggles to build on its compelling setup, eventually descending into incoherent chaos without a shred of believability. Chestnut is fine in the role of the cerebral, loyal husband and Hall tries her best to keep her character from feeling like a shrill-wife stereotype, but both actors are undermined by a script that seems like it wasn’t really developed beyond the outline phase. Meanwhile, the rest of this movie’s stellar cast are left without much to do, including the inimitable Michael K. Williams and the criminally underutilized Romany Malco (who is given a truly thankless role here).
When the Bough Breaks can take solace in the fact that it is truly unlike any of its box-office competitors, and it’s able to stir up some real tension at points. The concept of an unstable, lustful loose cannon literally holding her crush’s baby hostage within her own womb would seem to suggest a number of intriguing plot twists, but the final payoff is a meandering mess and the movie’s attempts to craft a thriller as memorable as Fatal Attraction fall far short. From a musical score that’s full of “gotcha!” stings to several vaudeville-esque reaction shots, this wacky head-scratcher seems to be nothing more than occasional fare for midday cable TV.