Annabelle Review

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Summary: Annabelle doesn’t scare. The end result is Anna-bleh!

Rating: 30%

Director: John R. Leonetti

Cast

Annabelle Wallis – Mia

Alfre Woodard – Evelyn

Ward Horton – John

Tony Amendola – Father Perez

Suppose you’re reading a crime novel, a murder mystery set on a secluded island. There are four prime suspects and one includes a rambling alcoholic with bloodshot eyes and a ghastly appearance. This man claims to have committed a thousand odd crimes in his past and the story also explicitly suggests his animosity towards the victim. Now would it in any manner stun you if this very man is found to be the murderer after a few hundred pages or so? Most probably not, unless you are so non-judgmental you’ll not find any reason to doubt even an ‘alcoholic with bloodshot eyes, a ghastly appearance and hostility towards the victim’.

Now tell me this, what is so startling about a creepy doll that’s possessed by the ghost of a ‘deranged Satan-worshipping cult member’? Now, a demonic doll possessed by an evil spirit may be blood-curling spooky if it were in real life but on film, that too one releasing in late 2014 where films have successfully shocked by making the source of fear unknown, the idea comes off as unoriginal. Another problem is that the entity is all skin and bone in terms of characterization. In James Wan’s Conjuring, which introduced the Annabelle doll fleetingly, kept shut in ghost-hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren’s museum, the spirit at least had a story to tell. While I wasn’t a fan of the film itself, I can say that at least their ghost didn’t seem like a throw-in. This one, thanks to lazy writing, feels more like a shadow of a ghost and such a figure can never be terrifying. If you’ve read Strange Robert Louis Stevenson’s Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you’ll know exactly what I’m trying to say; what made Mr. Hyde so fearfully enigmatic a character was the vivid description provided about him through secondhand encounters. Omit the details, and just put ‘Mr. Hyde was a loathsome boor feared by every townsman’, there’s hardly an impact created.

Now, while may sound ludicrous, but even ghosts have a modus operandi and horror is effective only when the boundaries within which a supernatural entity works to spook the human characters is well-defined. For instance, in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger had infinite scope to haunt his victims but his playground was restricted to his character’s dreams. So audiences would dread the moment a character heard Freddie’s menacing voice or sensed something distorted about his environment, which implied that she or he had fallen asleep. Blair Witch Project, a modern horror classic filmed entirely using handicams, had an invisible cause of fear but one that haunted at only at nighttime.

Annabelle meanwhile takes generous liberties with the spirit of Annabelle Higgins, the runaway daughter of the Higgins family who returns only to kill her parents, is shot dead by the police along with her boyfriend after the two Satan-worshipping outcasts attack the film’s protagonists, a pregnant Mia and her husband John Form, both neighbors of the Higgins, and possesses one of Mia’s (most repulsive-looking) dolls, newly gifted to her by John. Annabelle toys with the kitchen stove and starts a fire. After Mia and John change homes post their daughter Lia’s birth, she re-appears despite John disposing her of at Mia’s insistence. It haunts Mia day and night, which John, a doctor, at first attributes to post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are two effective ‘horror’ scenes in the film. One includes Mia’s encounter with Annabelle’s spirit in her new home, where Annabelle firstly assumes the form of her young self as Mia looks on stupefied from another room and suddenly transforms to her freakish adult form as she dashes into the room Mia is in. The other one is more elaborate, and involves Mia, a dimly-lit storage unit in a basement and an elevator that refuses to leave it.

The preposterous, rule-bending moment comes later, when a priest, who role until then involved doling out platitudes intermittently, is brought in to deal with the situation. The priest, Father Perez, takes the doll in his possession so he can ‘work on it’ (a priest has been a staple of every horror film involving demonic possession, none bettering Father Damian Karras, the priest in Exorcist who actually had depth in terms of character) but meets with a supernaturally-caused accident. Now here comes the incredulous ‘fear-for-fear’s-sake’ (for convenience, I’ll call it FFFS) moment that may frighten at first glance but upon first thought seems incredibly force, more like a foolish desperate ‘whatever it takes’ attempt on director John R. Leonetti and writer Gaby Dauberman’s part to incite fear.

Father Perez survives the accident and informs Mia’s husband John about the spirit’s maleficence while he’s hospitalized. He phones Mia, who’s at home with Evelyn, a middle-aged bookseller who intuits her trauma and voluntarily comes to her help. Before he can warn her, there’s a knock at the door. Mia looks through the peephole and finds Father Perez with his back turned towards her. She opens the door and calls him out. But we know that Father Perez is in the hospital with John. So who’s this fellow? It obviously is the spirit disguised as Father Perez out of the blue to momentarily spook us before vanishing to spook us as Annabelle or the Demon, the way it is intended to spook. It’s fairly obvious that this never-seen-before ability of the spirit is nothing but the redundant, desperate rule-breaking FFFS moment I was speaking of.

Annabelle could’ve worked out well, especially as it included a decent enough set-up – the event happens in 1967, there’s news of the Manson family’s arrest, both John and Mia profess love and support for one another, and their conversation doesn’t seemed canned, like most horror film conversations do. The film could’ve done so much by exploring the extent to which the spirit of Annabelle tests the couple’s loyalty and support towards each other. But John is hardly utilized in the film, and the character of Mia could’ve had more potential; she’s fighting to save her baby so surely she could’ve reacted more passionately. Annabelle Wallis, who plays Mia, doesn’t bring the vigor that a person like Mia needs while facing such drastic situations. She does timidity and helplessness well, but when it comes to fighting back, her face needed to display that resistance and will-power. Ward Horton, playing her husband John, is passable but as I said above, his character is grossly underutilized.

And then there’s poor Evelyn, played by Alfre Woodard, who displays such an incredible level of selflessness towards the end of the film. Her character’s treatment in the film’s climactic moment (which I shan’t reveal for fear of being unbraided for spilling spoilers) is totally WTF-level absurd. The problem over here again is the underwritten narrative. Dramatic climaxes work only if we’re well acquainted with our characters, and this can happen only if they are well-defined and for this, the filmmaker and writer need to give them more time, especially if they wish to do pack everything – good storyline, deep characterization, big themes, jump scares as well as real horror – in a single film.

Annabelle, trying to do everything within its compact time frame of 90 minutes, fails. The end result is Anna-bleh.

Insidious Chapter 2 Review

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My seventeenth job for the site ourvadodara.in. Click the following link to read my review of 2013 Hollywood Film ’Insidious Chapter 2’, A James Wan Film Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Bryne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey : http://ourvadodara.in/insidious-chapter-2-review. Also, do visit the site for any updates about Vadodara life. I shall henceforth post the latest Bollywood & Hollywood Movies releasing in cinema halls in Vadodara on http://ourvadodara.in/

 

Horror Story Review: Save Me From This Film! This Terrible Terrible Film!

My fourth job for the site ourvadodara.in, for the Film Horror Story by Vikram Bhatt. Click the following link to read my review of http://ourvadodara.in/horror-story-review. Also, do visit the site for any updates about Vadodara life. I shall henceforth post the latest Bollywood & Hollywood Movies releasing in cinema halls in Vadodara on http://ourvadodara.in/

 

 

 

Review of 2013 Horror Film The Conjuring By James Wan, Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Grade: C / 30% Conjuring poster.jpg

Summary: The weakness of ‘putting everything in to impress’  hovers over James Wan’s The Conjuring throughout, until it becomes a tedious exercise to watch the film

 

Cast

 

Ed and Lorraine Sullivan is a ghost-busting couple who are professionally called ‘demonologists’. Their job description: to visit supposedly haunted properties either to a) detect any troublesome supernatural presence and get rid of it or b) debunk the rumors using rational explanations. They record their findings on tapes and video cameras to i) send it to the Vatican as evidence of demonic activity to get sanctioned for conducting exorcisms, and ii) to use it during presentations when they’re conducting seminars all over town. And you thought they were making home videos, did you? Those would be some nasty memories to keep! Lorraine is a clairvoyant, so she can see things other can’t and visit people’s memories and get a feel of their past experiences. It’s a gift in case of happy memories, but looking at the nature of her profession, it doesn’t seem like she gets many happy things to see.

When the Warrens visit the Perron family, who invite them after being traumatized by a demonic entity in their newly purchased farmhouse, it doesn’t take time before Lorraine senses that things are going to get messy. Seriously messy. This time, the spirit isn’t camera shy to lurk in the shadows until the very end of the film. It gives Lorraine an eerie welcome, hovering behind Roger Perron, the head of the family, when he opens the main door. The spirit then floats near Roger’s children as he and his wife Carolyn introduce their five (yes, five. This actually happened in 1971, according to the Sullivans) girls to Ed and Lorraine. A few moments later, bammm, Lorraine sees a woman hanging from the tree (i.e. the spirit; yes, it’s a woman again that haunts) close to the lake nearby. “The spirit has latched on to your family. So it’ll follow you wherever you go” she then explains to Roger and Carolyn, thus putting an end to our common doubt: ‘Why don’t the guys just leave?’. An exorcism needs to be conducted, but the Vatican needs proof before sanctioning an approval. Our demonologists, like the 70s version of Ghosthunters, then begin installing cameras and mics all over the house, recruiting two other guys, Drew and Brad, for this twisted venture. They also have ‘UV lights’ that track foot-marks etc; I remember this object so well because Brad tells Drew during the film ‘I need the UV LIGHTS’ with such great emphasis on ‘UV Lights’ I thought it for a moment it was product placement.

Day one, or rather Night one remains relatively ‘unghostly’ except for a highly intractable door that’ll shut on people’s faces without warning. Its night two when things begin to shake up. We’ve already had a teaser even before Sullivans’ entry;  one girl is yanked by her legs every night, another sleepwalks to a closet every time while the littlest one (like all littlest ones in horror movies do) keeps talking to an imaginary friend who later turns out to be ‘one of them little ghosts’. Now the evil spirit is incensed all the more because of the Christian crosses Ed has placed in all the rooms. She does everything in her powers to destroy the Perrons, and unlike some other spirits who circumscribe themselves to two-to-four tried-and-tested torture tactics, she has free rein here. She possesses the sleepwalking girl and takes her up to a secret area within the closet, she sends another one flying across the room, she drags the third by her hair, she flings objects at everybody etc. Other spirits make guest appearances too: the little ghost Rory, the knife-yielding maid and… yeah, I think that’s it. When the evil spirit (a witch when she lived) possesses Carolyn, all hell breaks loose, with louder screaming, birds crashing, stuff flinging, cupboards crashing, Carolyn bleeding, Ed chanting, girls wailing…, and exhaustion sets in. Free rein to ghosts ain’t really a good thing, is it?

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James Wan

The weakness of ‘putting everything in to impress’  hovers over James Wan’s The Conjuring throughout, until it becomes an exercise to watch the film. Even when the spirit is introduced, James tries to put in as many ‘Spirit Alert!’ signs as possible. Repeating a few scare tactics but making them all the more frightening each time they appeared would’ve done the trick, for example, it was unnerving to know what was in store for the girl who had her leg yanked every-time. But Wan does a lot many other things too, which quickly turn laborious. ‘Not scared of leg yanking? How about clocks stopping? Or birds dying? Or things breaking?’ is Wan’s attitude here, and it doesn’t work.

The characters in the film are too many. Ed and Lorraine were required obviously, and so were the Perron couple. But five girls plus Drew and Brad? And so many ghosts? We don’t know the girls to well nor the ghosts. And the film has a climax that wants us to be emotionally connected with Carolyn and the girls. Are we emotionally connected? Not really. More importantly, is Conjuring scary? Nope! My clairvoyance tells me I’ve seen far better horror films: Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, Rosemary’s Baby, Drag Me To Hell, to name a few. I went to Conjuring wondering what nightmares shall haunt me, but I guess it’s a good night’s sleep for me.