Review: Annabelle

When The Conjuring came out, I, like many enjoyed it a great deal. Not necessarily like many, and moreover, a bit uncharacteristically; I was really psyched about the prospect of Annabelle. It was one of the rare cases where I thought a prequel, or more appropriately, a spin-off had the potential to expand a bit of backstory into a feature-length tale on equal footing with its progenitor.

After having seen it, however, it did bring to mind Dario Argento’s response to when I asked if he ever considered further examining the backstory of Deep Red. Basically, what this ended up feeling like was a vacuous money-grab even though it, and the Deep Red concept, still could theoretically work.

What Anabelle lacks is not only atmosphere, which it is sadly in wont of throughout, but also a compelling narrative. In The Conjuring James Wan and the Hayes brothers wrung out so much effect from this doll affectation to give the protagonists a background you were left wanting more, in getting it you are left dissatisfied.

One issue the film contends with is that it’s not really an origin. The accursed doll comes to the couple at the center of this story and they deal with it. However, that’s not really a fault of the film. One true fault is that its zest for innovation peters out on the first act when introducing the notion that the world is changing in light of the Charles Manson killings. Much of the rest of the film following the inciting sequence is methodical and rote, and rarely introduces a wrinkle that is unique to this tale.

BANG!

There. Are you scared yet? No, well then don’t see this movie, because as it is unable to generate palpable atmosphere, real concern, or interest, in its characters the film then resorts mostly to jump- and false-scares. This is really a shame because the score does have some nice moments but it has to be an accomplice to the lacking script and direction and try and pry scares out of its prospective audience.

One would think that it would be hard to bungle a film wherein one protagonist is either pregnant or raising an infant, but this film manages to quite easily. Some milquetoast performances along with all else that’s plain to lacking really doesn’t help.

To add insult to injury the obligatory, somewhat open ending is as anticlimactic as the rest of the film is. It’s rare I use the phrase “forgettable” as it usually employed crassly, but when one has recently experienced a film so empty, so devoid of soul and verve, that you could easily forget that you just saw it. “Forgettable” one of the most fitting words there are.

3/10

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61 Days of Halloween: Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured films, please go here.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Usually with these 61 Days of Halloween posts I am usually writing about an older film. However, owing both to the fact that I want to come as close to having 61 posts in this theme as possible, and also that new horror film releases are now virtually year-round; I figured that a film being released between September 1st and October 31st in cinemas also warranted coverage.

It also warrants discussion because not only is it a sequel to one of the best horror films of 2010 (Back when I still didn’t have a genre-specific list) but also because of how it goes about being a horror sequel. It seems that, for one reason or another, many horror sequels: a) don’t take chances b) are very hesitant to stick too close to the end of the first film in terms of chronology.

However, what James Wan, Leigh Whannell and the team at Blumhouse did here is akin to a few things. First thing that came to mind was John Carpenter’s Halloween II that was very close in chronology treatment of his and Debra Hill’s story. The second, being a modern reference, is what Marvel Studios is doing. Their initial films in series be it Thor, Iron Man or Captain America have all been variations on the origin story, but as the franchises built up goodwill, and their cups runneth over after The Avengers; there’s been some risk-taking.

There’s a glorious dichotomy omnipresent throughout all of Insidious 2. After a teaser scene that takes us back in time, but is also referenced a few more times, and key to the story; the film picks up the narrative the day after events in the previous installment. For while the narrative picks up where it left off it goes down paths and alleys that are not entirely expected. It takes you there with mellifluously macabre scoring, mesmerizing edits and wondrous camerawork. It rips a few other pages out of the euroshocker (namely Argento) catalog, but it also continues to expound upon its myth building. It doesn’t do what’s expected, but none of it feels inorganic or forced. Both Wan and Whannell have very consciously crafted a story that warranted this kind of exploration. For what’s the point of a follow-up if its to be a carbon copy rather than a continuation?

I have yet to attend a double-, triple- or any other multi-film experience to mark the release of a new installment in a series, however, this is the one I most lament because I fully intended on going to but life got in the way. It’s not that I felt seeing the first film over was necessary when I walked out, it just would’ve been all the more glorious.

While a chapter of the tale closes at the end of this film (the syntax of the title is very apropos) there can still be more to tell as the film branches out. This marvelous bookend of a story also leaves one wanting more and can easily deliver it. To date Insidious: Chapter 2 is the best horror film I’ve seen this year not only for its bravado, but, also because of how it follows through on its characters searches and arcs, which gives the actors room to stretch and also expand or contrast to the prior film.

Why The Purge Matters

Finances

Box office actuals won’t likely be out until tomorrow, but the estimates are that The Purge not only won the box office for the weekend clearly, but it also sets a record for an opening by an R-rated horror film in the US. On top of that, it’s take in excess of $36 million dollars more than makes back its reported 3 million production budget.

I’ve frequently commented on budgets inasmuch as I don’t care what they are so long as the film is good. As a viewer that’s true. If a film cost a couple of thousand dollars and works (like Absentia) good for it. If a movie costs a lot of money and works for me bully for it as well (See Artificial Intelligence). Budget really only comes into play on a film, for a viewer, when a film is trying to tell a story beyond its means and fails. If a film understands its constraints and tells its story well within them you can’t knock if for being made on the cheap.

As a filmmaker, budgets do matter. When a film made with a very small investment compared to many, especially so-called tentpoles, can be a hit regardless of what its magic number is and return on that investment that’s a great thing. Most people with sense recognize that fiscal responsibility is needed. Steven Spielberg has directed a number of blockbusters but even he knows that more isn’t always more. So there’s a sense that profit, more than throwing money at a supposed sure thing; or rather something that can’t miss because too much has been invested already, doesn’t always make sense.

The Purge (2013, Universal)

Story

But the success of The Purge is exciting because its strength is its idea. Now, I am one of those who enjoyed the film a great deal. There was a certain more that I wanted, and not in the best way, but the film does work and sets the stage. The concept is about a night of legalized crime. The introduction to the concept is through a microcosmic approach where one family who usually does not get involved, just hides out, becomes ground zero for the neighborhood’s hunt. It essentially plays a home invasion plot.

However, with a jumping-off point of legalized crime and the potential franchise (I am sure it will be one now) drawing its strength from a concept rather than a star or an iconic character there are any number of areas or stories in the genre it can explore. It can either start the next installment with this family or go off on a tangent, it can show the chaos that lead to this all or any number of permutations on Purge Night. Like many of the most successful franchises it tethers itself to a once-a-year happening, but in this case they created a holiday.

I think a common talking point was we wanted more about what precipitated the institution of the purge. That is introduced just enough such that the story can work and the details are left as potential fodder for later. In this film its a given and that’s fine. It still works very well and more importantly people talked about it. Whether you went in cynical or willingly suspended disbelief it got people talking, just on the concept.

On my Twitter feed I saw a hashtag develop of #LegitPurgeQuestions. Yes, many of them were funny but it’s still people talking, engaging, being interested in the idea, and when all is said and done, wanting more.

When I recently rescreened Sinister I noted how many bullets I jotted down for a post I’m planning later in the year. There are many talking points in it. Blumhouse is not only making successful horror films but ones that get people talking and whether you enjoy them or not, I for the most part have liked them a lot, they’re keeping a genre that’s always in peril of stagnation, to one extent or another, fresh.

I say that can be nothing but a good thing.

In Anticipation Of: Mercy

Intro

A large part of why I started this blog, as opposed to continuing at the site I was perviously, was that I wanted to control my content and also if I should choose to be publishing daily I wanted to not necessarily constrain my focus to a particular region or breaking news.

Yes, having access to information is great, and I partook in the internet explosion that occurred when Jurassic Park IV added itself to next summer’s calendar, but I want to focus mostly on things I have seen rather than will see. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and the new Universal/Blumhouse production of Mercy, which starts rolling today, is an exception.

Background

Gramma (Signet)

Mercy is based on a short story by Stephen King. The original story was entitled “Gramma” and was first read by most in his short story collection The Skeleton Crew.

When I heard the news the name of the story didn’t immediately ring a bell. As the casting announcements started coming I decided to revisit it. This time I read it not just to be refreshed on the story but to look at it as an adaptation. I can still mostly keep prose in mind as pure prose (Hitchcock reached a point where he could no longer read for pleasure because he read everything with an eye for adaptation), unless I am consciously adapting it like I did with Suffer the Little Children.

So, how are the elements being prepared for the screen? How good do they look? For the most part they reinforce my positive outlook.

The Story

Now, as is the case with a lot of prose (particularly King’s), a certain amount of externalization will need to take place. Much of the tale takes place in a single location and chronicles the protagonist’s reaction, through inner monologue, to the predicament he finds himself within.

It’s a highly effective narrative, which has potential for great visuals, interesting construction and a lot of tension. In fact, it was brought to the small screen during the short-lived return of The Twilight Zone.

The Screenwriter

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

Brought in to adapt the story into a screenplay was Matt Greenberg whose previous credits include Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, The Prophecy 2 and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later as his franchise prolonging starting points, then Reign of Fire; an intriguing installment of Masters of Horror called The Fair-Haired Child, then most importantly 1408, based on King and the upcoming Pet Sematary remake. King projects have been botched enough that track record and pedigree matters; Darabont and Garris usually means a good visual treatment of the tales; Greenberg may as well, if his previous works are any indication.

Director

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009, Lionsgate)

Peter Cornwell has genre experience in a film I happened to like quite a bit, A Haunting in Connecticut. That does lead me to the next point…

Marketing

Based on the narrative of the story itself this film should be a PG-13 horror movie. I believe a faithful adaptation would make it so. You’d need to amp things up to get it to an R-Rating. I don’t have an issue with that in and of itself, it’s just something I predict.

Casting

American Horror Story (2012, FX)

Stephen King, the story and the team (including Blumhouse the production company helming who have had much genre success lately, namely Sinister and the Paranormal Activity series) are enough to make this a movie to anticipate, however, then you get to the cast.

Dylan McDermott is first billed. In recent years he’s not only had a return to prominence, but I’m sure gained many new fans with his very successful forays into the horror genre. Most notably on American Horror Story. I know my appreciation of his work has grown exponentially.

The lead as per King’s text is George, the younger of two brothers, who I presume will be played by Chandler Riggs. Playing Carl Grimes in The Walking Dead is no small feat. You know this to be true whether you’re a fan of the show, graphic novels or both. I read a lot of the books before trying the show and Riggs gives a much more well-rounded interpretation of Carl than I had imagined.

Then there’s Frances O’Connor who I have not seen nearly enough of since I first became of her in Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

Joel Courtney and Chandler Riggs (Joel Courtney/Twitter)

If we are to presume McDermott and O’Connor are the parents and Riggs is the younger sibling, then naturally Joel Courtney (Super 8) would be Buddy, the older brother. If this is to be the case then it would be an interesting change of pace from Courtney‘s appearances thus far. In Super 8 and his guest spot on The Haunting Hour he’s been a dreamer, a bit of nerd, and all-around good kid. However, Buddy, as written from George’s perspective, is your typical older brother maybe a little meaner, a little more antagonistic than most.

Last, but certainly not least when the source material is called “Gramma,” is the grandmother who will be played by Shirley Knight, which is another great choice. It’ll be great to see her in a film like this as opposed to Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Conclusion

I don’t want to wander into potential spoilerdom. The story, which should give you an idea what the film will sort of be (but don’t judge it on that!), is out there if interested. I also needn’t go into each production department and discuss where else awesomeness can happen, but the potential exists elsewhere also! The more I got into the story and examined in cinematic terms the more exciting a prospect it became. I am definitely looking forward to this one.