Sunday 13 August 2017
The Doll Monty
2017 USA Directed by David F. Sandberg
UK cinema release print.
Well Annabelle: Creation is a fun film.
Much more entertaining than I was expecting given that I wasn’t all that into Annabelle (reviewed here). That being said, it does spend all of its time wallowing in the most obvious ‘horror movie clichés’ you can imagine but, although there are no real surprises throughout the movie (barring a couple of nice moments), it at least executes these conventions in a concise and joyous manner and, while there’s almost a deliberate absence of character depth to the movie, it really succeeds in one of the main intents of a horror film... it’s a fair bit scary in places.
Annabelle: Creation is, of course, actually the fourth film to feature the title character after a quite important set of appearances in The Conjuring (reviewed here) which was, in my humble opinion, probably the best horror movie of the last decade and a brief glimpse of an appearance in The Conjuring 2 - The Enfield Case (set in my home town here in the UK and reviewed by me here). Now, I have to admit I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope for this movie since the stories themselves are obviously no longer relying on the real life events that are alleged to have taken place in The Conjuring movies and I’m guessing this is Hollywood totally doing its own thing with the ‘character’. To be honest, there was already a ‘creation’ scene in terms of how the doll came to be demonically possessed in Annabelle so I couldn’t possibly see where this thing could go without contradicting itself. Well, if that’s what you are thinking too, fear not, there’s actually a pretty good tie in towards the end of the movie with a little segment which takes place twelve years after the main body of this one... where you get to see certain events you’ve seen before in another movie from a different point of view and which ties it in, quite neatly, to the canon as a whole. No real continuity problems there.
The film starts off with a doll maker putting the Limited Edition brand on the wooden packaging of the first Annabelle doll and it introduces us to his wife and child. However, as in the trailer to this movie, it’s not long before their daughter meets with a tragic and untimely death. The child’s sudden death is handled quite jarringly in a masterstroke of build up and editing, much more intensely implied than as seen on the film’s marketing campaign. The film then jumps on a number of years to a nun and her six charges as they move into the big house with the doll maker and his wife, setting up as a new orphanage. Of course, right away the haunted, demonic shenanigans begin with the children and the director then spends the rest of the time trying to pile on the fear. Which he does quite well but, like I said, clichés...
And I do mean clichés. One of the main child protagonists is partially crippled by polio and right away we are introduced to a chair-lift which can only move up or down once the occupant is seat belted into it. So there’s a situation just rife for a horror chase scene right there and you can bet the director sure uses this set up later. Similarly, we have a ‘dumb waiter’ in one of the rooms with a door which keeps sliding open. Yeah, right. No possibilities for haunted, horror escape routes there then, right? We even have a sinister scarecrow and a big, scary well on the property so, you know, the writers and director are taking no chances in throwing potential horror tropes at you from the word go here. I’d be super critical of all of this if it wasn’t for the fact that the director knows he isn’t fooling anybody and milks the horror elements with almost perfect timing while utilising some strong performances from the kids. One of whom I was especially fearful for, played by Lulu Wilson... due to her similar appearance, in my mind, to a young Hayley Mills.
Now, the film is quite intense but that didn’t stop me from seeing the humour in the film and kind of laughing at certain ‘fright moments’ due to their manipulative obviousness, it has to be said... although certain members of the audience were certainly freaking out right from the start here. Don’t know what that was all about... it wasn’t that scary.
The film certainly plays with the conventions of horror without doing much that’s original with them, I’m sorry to say but, the possible unintentional humour of a few scenes certainly doesn’t go against it and I think most lovers of the genre will be happy with this one. Despite the lack of surprises, though, it does have one very surprising moment in it which isn’t pertinent to the main plot... at least not of this movie, at any rate but, certainly of a movie which is coming to cinemas next year. Keep a sharp eye out for a little scene near the start of the film where Sister Charlotte (played by Stephanie Sigman) is showing the doll maker (played by Anthony LaPaglia) a photograph of her last diocese. There’s a beautifully done, shared universe moment here which I’m sure we’ll get the back story to in 2018. Actually, there’s another nice little moment which may catch people off guard during the film, also using a photograph. I won’t go into too much detail but let’s just say “the eyes have it” and leave it at that.
Benjamin Wallfisch provides a score which, while not exactly a million miles away from what other composers are doing within this genre at the moment, is an effective bit of blood curdling "sound design seeks atonal ferocity with GSOH for scary scoring". It’s appropriate and effective when he pulls out all the stops which he does frequently because, despite the conventions being solidly delivered by the director of this movie, Sandberg also does something which you can’t usually get away with if you want to produce an effective horror movie. This being that there are actually very few rest moments between the various horror set pieces. There are some, obviously but... they are very short and so the horror sequences are almost just piled one on top of the other with very little time for the audience to calm down and pause for breath. This really shouldn’t work as effectively as it does here though so, again, it doesn’t really harm the movie. I suspect the pausing beats that are in here might well have been longer in the first assembly of the movie but were maybe whittled down to up the pacing on this one... who knows, the film might have been even more effective for some longer ‘downtime’ sequences but, as it stands, it seems to manage to hold up nicely without them so, no worries there.
Eagle eyed fans of the real life horrors behind the haunted Annabelle doll will get a little treat too. It’s not exactly a secret that the scary Annabelle doll used for these movies looks nothing like the real life counterpart made famous by the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren. When one of the characters is given a new doll right at the end of the movie, that rag doll is actually a copy of the ‘real’ Annabelle doll so, you might want to keep an eye out for that. Just don’t leave that eye out for long though or you, too, may become the subject of a real life horror filled event.
And that’s me done on Annabelle: Creation. I really wasn’t expecting to like it but, although I did have moments where I was more comically amused than scared at certain points, it’s a pretty intense, single minded ride which horror fans should really get on with. A word of warning though... if you leave when the credits starts rolling then you are going to miss out. There are two post credits scenes on this movie... one half way through the credits which is pretty much what you were expecting the film to do as its last shot anyway but then, hold on because there’s a more substantial appearance of another character once the credits have finished. I won’t say anything about this now but I’m sure I’ll be mentioning it again in a future review, if you catch my drift. In the meantime though, this ones a minor but effective horror concoction that genre fans will not want to miss.