‘Brahms’ and ‘Separation’ Director William Brent Bell Explores Why Dolls Get Scarier When We Grow Up

Creepy dolls have been a staple of horror movies for decades, everything from Chucky to Annabelle. William Brent Bell is staking a significant claim to scary dolls too. He directed The Boy and Brahms: The Boy II, and now his new movie, Separation, has scary puppets. 

Separation star Violet McGraw looks at puppets
Violet McGraw | Open Road Films / Briarcliff Entertainment

Bell spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet by phone about Separation. He explained his theory about why dolls and puppets get scarier when you get older. Separation is in theaters now. 

William Brent Bell on the dolls of ‘Brahms’ and ‘Separation’

The Brahms doll was inanimate in the first The Boy, and Bell still milked creepy scares out of it. Separation involves puppets and we won’t spoil how they evolve into something scary. 

William Brent Bell directs Violet McGraw in Separation
Violet McGraw and William Brent Bell | Blair Todd / Open Road Films / Briarcliff Entertainment

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“I would even call it love/hate relationship,” Bell said. “We love these dolls as children and puppets as children. For some reason, kids are typically never scared of them. It’s only when we become adults we become scared of them. So it’s this really interesting love/hate relationship.”

William Brent Bell was suspicious of dolls even before ‘Brahms’

Bell described his own apprehensions with dolls. As the director of The Boy movies and Separation, he spent a lot of time with his own props. 

Separation star Rupert Friend walks down the street with Violet McGraw
Rupert Friend and Violet McGraw | Blair Todd / Open Road Films / Briarcliff Entertainment

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“When I’m carrying it around, they’re just always looking right at you, just like a little puppy,” Bell said. “So this allows you to use your imagination to learn what they’re thinking. And then, of course, they’re typically inanimate. It’s always fascinating are they going to move? Did they move? It just leaves a lot to the imagination and there’s just a lot to be explored there.”

Why kids aren’t afraid of dolls 

A child (Violet McGraw) is the protagonist in Separation and Brahms: The Boy II had a young boy (Christopher Convery) who fell under Brahms’ spell. Bell explained why children are more fearless.

Separation stars Violet McGraw and Ruper Friend draw together
Violet McGraw and Rupert Friend | Blair Todd / Open Road Films / Briarcliff Entertainment

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That’s everything, isn’t it? If you talk to a child, their perspective on the world is coming purely from instinct usually. They don’t have any preconceived notions if you ask them a question about something. And likewise, they’re just dolls. There’s no reason. Even in the movie, there’s a scene where he’s worried about her being scared in her room and he’s like, ‘Well, you’re not scared of the puppets.’ She’s like, ‘Yeah, they’re my friends.’ He’s like, ‘Well, they’re pretty scary. They’re not always your friends. So there’s no reason to be scared of something if you have no context as to why they would be scary. It’s just a doll until we get old enough to start to overthink it. Then it gets in our head and you find yourself having nightmares.

William Brent Bell, interview with Showbiz Cheat Sheet, 4/23/21