When the Bough Breaks
John and Laura Taylor almost have it all: a loving marriage, flourishing professional careers (he's a high-powered lawyer, she's an acclaimed chef), and a beautiful mansion (complete with detached guest house) in New Orleans.
Their happiness lacks only one thing: a baby.
John and Laura have tried and tried. But after three heartrending miscarriages, they've reluctantly decided to look for a surrogate to carry their child.
Working with an agency that matches such couples to prospective surrogates, they soon identify Anna Walsh as a promising possibility. She's young, pretty and demure, and she says she's thrilled at the chance to fulfill this important role on behalf of the Taylors. In fact, she can't stop marveling at how deeply they love one another, how incredible their lives are, how … attractive John is.
Soon, Anna's implanted with John and Laura's embryo (a procedure that they—and we—watch on an ultrasound as doctors implant the already-fertilized egg). It's successful, and it looks as if happily ever after is very much in the offing for everyone: John and Laura will get the baby they want, while Anna has a chance to take pride in helping a sweet, charitable couple.
Of course, this is a movie called When the Bough Breaks, so it's only a matter of time before John and Laura begin to realize that innocent-looking Anna is anything but.
[Note: Spoilers are contained the following sections.]
When the Bough Breaks paints a strong, positive picture of John and Laura's union. They're shown as deeply committed to one another, especially John, who loves his wife dearly. As Anna slowly amps up her seductive attempts to "steal" John from Laura, he mostly manages to resist her increasingly brazen come-ons and manipulations. (More on that in Sexual Content.)
Throughout the film, marriage and parenthood are consistently depicted as things worthy of sacrifice to honor and protect (even if the ways that John ultimately seeks to honor and protect his marriage get quite convoluted, as we'll see).
John's got a queasy feeling about Anna's boyfriend, Mike. That queasiness is justified after Mike batters Anna. Concerned for Anna's safety—and perhaps even more so for the welfare of their unborn child—he and Laura graciously invite Anna to stay in their guest house as long as necessary. John also gets a restraining order against Mike.
Laura tells John that painting their house's nursery is "a leap of faith." She also tells Anna that her three miscarriages have "put us through hell." A Catholic hospital is named after a saint in that tradition, St. Agnes.
John longs for physical intimacy with his wife, but as he tries to kiss her and perhaps initiate that activity, Laura apologizes and says that she can't do that yet … a pattern, it's implied, that's been repeated more than once since her miscarriages. That pattern is broken later, and the couple has sex on a couch (we see repeated shots of her bare back as well as explicit movements). It turns out that jealous Anna is watching the couple through the window as they make love. Elsewhere, John and Laura kiss repeatedly.
Anna plays the role of the doe-eyed naïf to the hilt, only gradually becoming more aggressive in her attempts to seduce John. It begins with her asking him to feel her stomach (ostensibly to feel the baby, but it's obvious that there's more going on for her). Things get more intense when she sends him two sexting videos. The second shows her topless torso barely covered by a scarf that we see her begin to remove, which prompts John to quickly close the video. It's suggested that John will miss out on a promotion for having viewed such material at work, which his company soon discovers. He also comes home when Laura's gone to find Anna waiting for him sans shirt (but strategically covered with that scarf).
During a rainstorm, a piece of gutter breaks off on the guesthouse and is banging noisily. John goes out to fix it, whereupon he sees Anna disrobe completely for him through the window. (We see a just-shy-of -full-nudity shot of the side of Anna's uncovered torso.) He stares at her a few moments longer than he should (a stare she returns), and it's clear that he knows he's crossed a boundary and regrets it.
Anna threatens to reveal everything to Laura, and eventually she tells a story about how she and John have been "screwing" every day. (Something he's able to convince his wife isn't true.)
Near the end, Laura tells John that the only way they can safely get the baby she so desperately longs for is for John to feign love for Anna and to tell the younger woman that he's going to leave his wife. Laura tells him that he must do whatever is necessary to convince Anna. He's hesitant but eventually agrees, leading to a scene in which John and Anna embrace passionately and appear to begin taking clothes off as his hand goes up beneath her dress. It's implied that more happened, as both John and Laura later shed tears of regret over how things have turned out.
Laura and Anna both wear cleavage-baring tops and dresses. Anna goes skinny dipping, and the camera sees her nude-but-shadowy silhouette from some distance away. She also wears skimpy lingerie, and two other shots show her covered with bubbles in a bathtub. We learn that Anna was sexually abused as a teen by her foster father.
Mike talks with John about having worked as a roofer, then says one of the perks of the job is watching women disrobe through windows from his lofty vantage point. "They act like they're alone," he says, "but they know we're there." John and Laura reminisce about having had sex on their first date. John praises his wife's breasts and backside. There's talk of how pregnancy is increasing Anna's sex drive because of hormonal changes. Anna talks disturbingly and suggestively about having John's baby inside her.
Laura ponders the ethics of surrogates, saying, "It's against the law to pay someone to have sex, but you can pay someone to have your child."
Mike is arrested for having beaten Anna, whose face is bloodied and bruised. In another confrontation, he grabs the back of her neck and hair and yanks them backward.
Other violent altercations include: a man being brutally and repeatedly stabbed, leading to his death, then rolled down a flight of stairs; a woman being kicked and having her head rammed into the floor; a violent altercation between a man and a woman that involves a stabbing, hitting and kicking; a woman being rammed through a glass case; and someone being hit by a car and flung up into the air before landing with a thud on the ground.
Elsewhere, there's a shotgun blast. We see a rotting corpse that's been decomposing for weeks. Anna cuts herself (it's not clear where) with a razor while she's taking a bath. (We see blood dripping off the blade into the water.) A cat is horrifically mutilated and placed in a baby's crib. The baby that Anna eventually has is roughly jostled in its car seat as various people fight over it. A man is slammed against a car by police after he tries to attack someone. Anna breaks a glass table by hurling a chair at it.
In a videotaped interview, Anna responds to a question about whether she would be willing to have an embryo aborted in the case of multiple viable embryos being successfully implanted simultaneously. She says yes to that question.
Crude or Profane Language
God's name is misused about 15 times (including two pairings with "d--n"). Jesus' name is taken in vain twice. We hear five s-words and one use of the f-word stand-in "fricken." "H---" is uttered five times. We hear one or two uses each of "a--," "a--hole," "d--mit," "b--ch," "d-ckhead" and "balls."
Drug and Alcohol Content
People drink wine and beer at social events throughout the movie. Mike is an alcoholic and a smoker. Anna brings a bottle of champagne to John at work in an attempt to celebrate the pregnancy.
There's conversation about Anna obtaining a prescription drug that can be used as an abortifacient. Anna also rifles through John and Laura's medicine cabinets, looking at several prescriptions that Laura takes.
Other Negative Elements
Anna and Mike, it turns out, are in cahoots to get the Taylor's money, then skip town and sell the child to another interested party.
Anna's water breaks, and we see a large quantity of fluid coming through her clothes. (Disturbingly, it's during a fight scene.)
When the Bough Breaks is a strange film. It's a surprisingly positive depiction of a couple's deep, faithful love for one another. But when the manipulative, violently unbalanced young woman they've chosen to be their baby's surrogate reveals her true colors, things get seriously weird.
The bloody physical showdowns between major characters here comes as no surprise. That's practically a given in the psychological thriller genre. What is a surprise—and one that tries to tie the head and heart in ethical knots—is the fact that John's wife encourages him to do whatever is necessary to win Anna's trust and secure the baby she so desperately longs for—even if that means violating his marriage vows.
We don't know exactly what happens when John reluctantly plays that part. But the couple's shared tears imply that he did what he thought he had to do to get the baby that they've pined for. In other words, in order for this loving couple to fulfill their dreams, John has to tarnish his marriage vows with a unhinged psychotic woman who vacillates frequently between wanting to seduce him (complete with several scenes of near nudity) and wanting to murder him.
If all that weren't morality-twisting enough, When the Bough Breaks paints a nasty, bloody, worst-case-scenario picture of what can (theoretically) happen when using a surrogate to have a baby goes really, really wrong.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Morris Chestnut as John Taylor; Regina Hall as Laura Taylor; Jaz Sinclair as Anna Walsh; Theo Rossi as Mike Mitchell; Romany Malco as Todd Decker
John Cassar ( )
September 9, 2016
December 27, 2016