Category Archives: Killer dolls

Annabelle: Creation 2017

Usually when a sequel comes out to a film everybody hated it is doomed no matter how good it is. It seemed everyone hated The Conjuring spin-off Annabelle so logically its sequel should crash and burn. This has not happened: it has done better than Annabelle did in the US and the worldwide box office. Maybe its the Rotten Tomatoes factor – its reviews have been significantly better than part one. Or maybe The Conjuring Part 2 came out between these killer doll movies and reset the love from audiences for this whole spooky universe.

For that is what we have arrived at folks: The Conjuring movies and its children are officially part of a shared universe and we didn’t even know it. It helps that:

a) No one told us that this was a shared universe to start with, despite the other stories were already well in development before the first Conjuring even came out and

b) They’ve all been really good, well made and frightening movies. Which is always a bonus. Even the first Annabelle – yeah suck it Rotten Tomatoes. I’m right, you’re wrong. Oh also…

c) They’re not The Mummy.

Annabelle: Creation continues this series by being exceptionally scary and not just sticking to one thing. If it was just a creepy looking wooden doll we had to deal with I’m not sure the story could have lasted until half way through the first reel of the first movie (some would argue it barely made it through the prologue of The Conjuring but that’s their problem). Fortunately Annabelle: Creation not only sets us up with the macabre figure of Annabelle herself and her demon we briefly saw in the first film (I think he’s smaller here, which makes sense as this is set years before hand so is less powerful) but a whole host of other creepy images. Things under the bed, crawling darkness up the doorway, half bodies climbing up gaps in the walls and a scarecrow.

That’s one of the funnest things about Annabelle: Creation, it sets up all the set pieces in the early part of the movie, like traps waiting to spring. Half a dozen female orphans and their nun (?) arrive at a country house where a grieving couple take them on after the death of their daughter. The girls all explore around the house and there is the scarecrow in the barn, a broken down old butler’s lift, a ringing bell and, best of all, a really creaky old Stannah Stairlift that takes a crippled girl very slowly all the way up to the top of the house. You know what is going to happen with all these objects and contraptions but that is half of the fun.

And these Conjuring films really are a lot of fun. The frights are varied and can be from a jump scare to something very slow building and subtle. Its a shame that the recent It didn’t learn a thing or two on how to do genuine scares from these films. The stories are relatively simple and maybe not that original but they are all about the framework: setting up the characters and situations as a basis for the main event: to frighten the bejesus out of you. I loved It and it obviously had a better story but it was a very dense one, packed with incident and asides to the point that it didn’t have time to let the scares genuinely frighten you, or at least me.

The Conjuring films are much more bare bones, though thats not to say that you aren’t invested in the characters. The girls here, well the two main ones anyway, are a likeable bunch and you want them to get out of this thing mostly unscathed, not that this is guaranteed. Another good aspect of these films: death is always just around the corner… the most frightening thing of all.

As for the shared universe –  well if this is the first one to fully embrace it then its done a fine job. The film doesn’t lurch to a giant stand still as a bunch of new characters turn up to talk about some international ghost agency (god help us if that happens in the next film). Instead there are just a few hints here and there – plus a post credit scene which is really just telling us what the next film is about.

This whole “Creation” thing though I’m not so sure about. Why call a film creation if the only creation you see is a tiny moment in the opening credits. I get that there is a bit more as to how the doll became evil in the first place but that’s pretty obvious and uninteresting really. What we are left with is a couple of shots of a doll maker following instructions and that’s it. Its like when Leatherface got his chainsaw in Leatherface: The Beginning – he was walking along and saw a chainsaw so picked it up. Et voila! Bit pointless really.

In fact why do we keep on having to have prequels all the time? What happened to horror movies carrying on with the story? The first Annabelle was a prequel to The Conjuring, this one is a prequel to Annabelle. Then there are the Insidious films which seem to just be going backwards now too. Okay they aren’t in this universe but they feel exactly the same so I’m putting them in there too. So where next? Are we just going to go back and back until Cain is being haunted by Abel?

A minor problem though, even if these films weren’t part of a shared universe they work really well floating on their own two feet. Annabelle: Creation has some great scares  (helped no end by the vast majority of them being practical effects or just plain old fashioned camera trickery) and whilst I don’t think that a scare is the be-all-and-end-all of horror, it is always a lovely thing to behold when done well.

 

Advertisements

The Boy 2016

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

An old, dark house, a creepy old couple, a beautiful young woman brought into look after what she thinks will be a small child but turns out to be something far more sinister. If these things intrigue you and you want to see a film like this, dripping with tension and nail-biting suspense, then go see The House of The Devil. If you just want to be thoroughly entertained though then The Boy will certainly do.

Okay I’ve already told you the plot other than the fact that the small child who needs looking after is a life-size china doll called Brahms. He has a set of rules that must be followed or he will turn into a hideous razor toothed monster Gremlins-style. Okay that last bit isn’t true, but it is lovely seeing a movie with the old follow-the-rules-or-else trope. It may not be original but at least it helps give the plot a forward momentum. Well it would if you ever got to see the rules properly, or if they were read out loud so we knew what the nanny was failing to do, but that doesn’t happen. The only rule we really get a grip on is that she’s meant to kiss him goodnight, which comes into its own later on.

The creepy old couple do not hang around much past the opening act, they are desperate to go away on holiday. So they hightail it out of there in the same way May and I did to the cinema the first chance we got to dump our dog, Mylo, on someone last Sunday. The vast majority of the film falls on the shoulders of Lauren Cohan as the American nanny looking to escape from the rest of the world. Whatever The Boy‘s problems are Cohan is not one of them. The juxtaposition of her modern American look to the olde worlde of the gothic mansion and its crusty characters works really well. Whilst she is initially mocking and disregarding of the situation she finds herself in, when Cohan does start taking her job seriously, and gets scared out of her wits, she’s never hysterical or irritating. Instead she is just really engaged in what she’s doing. It sounds like a simple thing for an actor to do – to engage with her surroundings with her performance – but it would be easy to not do this and just play the role as bonkers and shrill. However when weird stuff starts happening with Brahms, Cohan seems more to enjoy it than be fearful off it. Later when she picks up the boy and holds him to her, she does it with such intimacy and care that you can believe she is falling for this toy. Rupert Evans also pops up as kind of handy man so at least Cohan isn’t stuck talking to a an answering Brahms throughout the whole film.

image

So Cohan is really good. This is lucky because quite a lot of the movie seems more interested in what she looks like in a towel or knickers than building atmosphere. The film IS beautifully shot and keeps the house looking interesting throughout with lots of views through keyholes and into dark attics. This is good news considering director William Brent Bell’s last film was the much derided found footage feature The Devil Inside, but considering old dark houses virtually have atmosphere build into the walls there is surprisingly little of it. That’s not to say the film isn’t engaging because it is, it’s just not very scary.

Not that I think that a horror movie has to scary. It helps, but it’s not the be all and end all of horror. Which is fortunate – there are some jump scares but that’s not the same thing as a good, genuine fright. However the central mystery, that of is The Boy alive, is very compelling. And things move at a quick enough pace that the mystery is constantly demanding your attention with clever little clues and red herrings driving the narrative forward. Is the reveal satisfactory? I think that will depend on the viewer. For what it’s worth I liked it.

So maybe The Boy is no great shakes. It’s not the best killer doll movie – God is there a really good killer doll movie? I really liked Annabelle but I’m in the minority and suspect I’m just wrong there. Various Child’s Play films? Nah. Stuart Gordon’s Dolls? Magic? Trilogy of Terror? They’re all a little hokey. Let’s settle on the opening of first The Conjuring as the high water mark for terrifying children’s toys.

The Boy also isn’t the best young Nanny-under-threat movie – I love House of the Devil as I mentioned before but the best one of that sub genre is, and probably always will be, The Innocents with Deborah Kerr.

What The Boy is is a lot of fun. It’s brisk and doesn’t take itself so seriously that we end up watching our heroine wailing in the corner for half an hour. And in Lauren Cohan we have a genuinely interesting screen presence, free from her Walking Dead co-stars and given a chance to shine. Okay so her maim co-star is an inanimate object, The Boy not Rupert Evans, but surely that makes it even trickier to pull off?

image