Annabelle: Creation

August 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Lulu Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto
Directed by: David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out”)
Written by: Gary Dauberman (“Annabelle”)

As its tagline and advertising has repeatedly stated, David F. Sandberg’s “Annabelle: Creation” is the latest entry in the “Conjuring Universe.” Everything has a cinematic universe now, and it was only a matter of time before a horror franchise joined the bandwagon. With at least two standalone films already announced, one of which is teased here a couple of times, any scoffing at the very notion of a “Conjuring Universe” is outdone by the fact that there really isn’t a better franchise out there from which to pull.

One of the main reasons James Wan’s “Conjuring” films work so well is both films stage truly chilling and technically astute set pieces while also giving us rich characters that we care about and enjoy spending time with. The first “Annabelle” chapter, which was produced by Wan, had neither of these things and was derivative to the point where I’m still not convinced that parts of Gary Dauberman’s script weren’t just copy/pasted from better films. Furthermore, director John R. Leonetti’s 2014 original film also felt strangely restrained and dissonant, only fitting into the Warren lore by name. With Leonetti out and Sandberg at the helm, we are treated to moment after moment of finely crafted horror. Sure, the characters are still lacking, but at least we’re invested this time.

The first act of the film follows Samuel and Esther Mullins as they raise their daughter in a small village out in the desert country. All their happiness comes to a tragic stop when their daughter is killed in an accident. Some years later, a nun and a group of girls from a shut-down orphanage show up at the Mullins residence. Sandberg immediately establishes his location with a fluid tracking shot throughout the house, then creates set piece after set piece where things go bump in the night.

“Annabelle: Creation” takes its sweet time putting all its pieces in place, and that style of pacing creates a vital level of investment and intrigue. As Mr. Mullins, Anthony LaPaglia is the true heart of the film, injecting each of his scenes with a level of palpable emotion despite the fact that in some scenes he doesn’t even have any dialogue. Miranda Otto provides great supporting work as his wife, though she gets saddled with a chunk of exposition later in the film. While there isn’t much done to flesh out the group of girls, all of whom occasionally blend together, Sandberg makes things interesting by hinting at the terrible, isolating things that children can do to each other.

“Annabelle: Creation” works as a great mystery, but it is ultimately a great show of style from its director. There’s a great visual gag early on in the film involving an upside down cross, and there is one bone-crushing moment in particular that genuinely took me by surprise. It’s a concise and effective horror movie, a much-needed course correction and enticing look at things to come.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

October 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso
Directed by: Mike Flanagan (“Oculus”)
Written by: Mike Flanagan (“Hush”) and Josh Howard (“Before I Wake”)

I firmly don’t believe in the paranormal, and think it’s patently ridiculous that any mass-market product made by a toy company could possibly channel the undead. That’s why I’ve never been scared of an ouija board—it has a barcode on it, and the new ones even need batteries. What does a spirit need with batteries anyway?

Still, the brand has value and Hasbro, the toy giant behind such cinematic masterpieces as “Transformers” and “Battleship,” holds the licensing rights and someone at the company though “sure, why the hell not?” when it came to adapting the parlor game into a movie.

Just before Halloween in 2014 we got “Ouija” and it was awful. Two years later, we’re treated to the prequel, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” and, in spite of the previous effort and the fact it’s based on a board game that pretends to be a tool of dark magic, it’s actually not too bad.

Set in 1967 Los Angeles, a widow named Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) conducts séances in her home, setting up the illusion of supernatural powers with the help of her two daughters, Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). Sharp-eyed fans who loved (or even remember) the first film may recognize the names of the sisters from the backstory recounted in the present day, but don’t worry, you don’t need any prior knowledge of that piece of shit movie.

Anyway, after Paulina sneaks out of the house to hang out with friends and play with an Ouija board, the sisters suggest to Alice that one of the games might spice up the readings for clients. When Doris tries to use the board alone to contact her late father, a dark spirit inhabits her, allowing her to command the board with her mind and seemingly talk to the dead—which Alice immediately uses to her advantage to gain new business. But when frightening things start happening, Paulina reaches out to her Catholic school principal Father Tom (Henry Thomas!) for help in taking down the evil that’s haunting her family.

The ‘60s setting and low-rent con artist racket that Alice runs with her girls add immediate flavor to a premise that is, ultimately, just another haunted house story with an Ouija board in the mix to make good on the licensing. Still, it’s a story fairly well told, even if some of Alice’s choices, like the one to exploit her daughter’s obviously chilling new ability, never really make sense and the climax moves forward with little regard for anything other than getting to the point where the backstory in the first movie (which, again, who the hell remembers that?) lines up with what has happened on the screen. Maybe this new-found quality will be further explored in a Magic 8-ball spin off in a few years. Outlook not so good.