Annabelle (2014)

AnnabelleReleased: October 3, 2014. Directed by: John R. Leonetti. Starring: Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard. Runtime: 98 min.

Do viewers remember that creepy doll named Annabelle from 2013’s “The Conjuring?” Well, regardless of your enjoyment of her, she’s getting the origins treatment. The film opens with background that dolls can both be children’s toys and conduits for inhuman spirits.

The film, based before the account with Ed and Lorraine Warren’s case files, follows a young couple, Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton). The couple, who are expecting a baby, are one’s average Church-attending folks, and John is training to become a doctor. As a present, John gives Mia a rare, vintage doll to finish her collection. It’s Annabelle – the creepy, rosy-cheeked porcelain doll in a white wedding dress. The next-door neighbours’ daughter, Annabelle Higgins (Tree O’Toole), ran away to join a cult, and one night she returns to slay her parents. In their brutal wake, Higgins and her boyfriend also invade Mia’s house and conjure a malevolent spirit, and use the Annabelle doll as a conduit.

The haunting starts out innocently – rocking chairs and sewing machines have minds of their own. The frequently absent husband John blames it on pregnancy hormones and the anxieties of the brutal attack. When things get worse after moving from Santa Monica to Pasadena, he suggests marriage counseling – even though priest blessings seem to do a better trick. As you can tell, he’s not smart.

Mia isn’t much smarter. At one point, she gets John to throw the doll in the trash early on – but when she finds Annabelle later in one of the boxes after moving, she doesn’t think to throw her back in the trash. What’s more bothersome about these characters is that they don’t pursue anything. In one instance, Mia and John find drawings that suggest a threat to Mia’s baby, which they assume were drawn by kids in the apartment building. They contemplate asking the young children’s parents about it, but never pursue. Also: The two kids are literally the only two tenants other than Mia, John and Evelyn (a great Alfre Woodard), we see in the apartment the entire film.

Unintelligent character decisions aside, the writing isn’t half-bad. It has a lot of demonic material and the tone feels like a mix between “Rosemary’s Baby” – perhaps the character name Mia is a nod to this film’s star, Mia Farrow – and “Insidious.” The expansion of the “Insidious” universe was great. Granted, the expansion of that universe made historical inaccuracies even more prevalent. The only truth about this film is that Annabelle is an inhuman spirit and that she’s a real doll. Otherwise, it’s a fictional but creative story. The inconsistency within the Warrens universe is confusing. In “The Conjuring,” Annabelle Higgins was murdered at seven years of age; in this film, she is a satanic cultist killed in her early twenties. It’s a more malevolent origin, but it suggests a lack of care from filmmakers.

There’s some poignancy in characterization, specifically found in the character of Evelyn. There’s also psychological horror thrown in for good measure. This doesn’t make “Annabelle” a creepy doll horror in the traditional sense. It has more layers, but it doesn’t have doll catch-phrases or the pitter-patter of doll feet in the apartment. The chills “Annabelle” musters are notable in eerie imagery and basement scenes. Before the Pasadena apartment, the film is only sporadically scary. The apartment building adds a creepier vibe.

Director John R. Leonetti brings his own style to the film and emulates James Wan’s style simultaneously. He uses a lot of bizarre zooms, even in conversations. The zooms exaggerate certain physical features like a comic strip might. The zooms are indicative of both his style and experience as a cinematographer. He rouses unease with these shots, but most are empty images of her doing absolutely nothing. The heightened unsettling score is designed to offer a sense of depth that isn’t there.

Score: 67/100

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The Conjuring (2013)

The_Conjuring_423.jpgReleased: July 19, 2013. Directed by: James Wan. Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor. Runtime: 112 min.

James Wan’s The Conjuring has something too often missing from modern horror films: real scares. I think this film is scary as hell. This film is enough to make me paranoid before bed, but not able to lose that much sleep. If I had seen this in theatres, it may have been a different story if I’d seen this in theatres because of the creepy score and great sound design, and couple that with surround sound, it might make viewers very paranoid at points. This film does start to creep me out just thinking about it. And how effective is that?

The true story follows the Perron family, an ordinary family haunted by a hateful spirit in early 1970s Rhode Island. For part of the film’s first act, focus is shifted between the Perron family and demonologists (the only two recognized by the Catholic Church) Ed and Lorraine Warren (portayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) until the Warren’s go to help the family.

Lorraine is given an extra layer by something that happened to her in a previous case. Her husband is more protective of her because of that, and it gives them a great chemistry. This also gives the two characters a nice layer of vulnerability. The two actors are great, so they’d have a great chemistry regardless. To find both good characterization and memorable performances already seems like a rarity in today’s modern horror market. I think the family gets some pretty good characterization, too, and they’re performed well by Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor and Joey King. The family dynamic’s explored realistically. I like the idea that, when one is younger, their imaginations make them more vulnerable.

What makes the movie more interesting is a sub-plot on another one of Warren’s cases, where an inhuman spirit inhabits a truly eerie Annabelle doll. It’s what helps introduce the Warren’s into the film. I think their lectures are fascinating, and they add on to the mythology of demonology and paranormal activity; other scenes add to the mythology, as well.

The film takes the old-school horror route with old-fashioned scares and a great foreshadowing of what’s to come; like clocks stopping at a certain time each night, pets being scared of the house, and bruises on bodies. The creepy score is used well for foreshadowing, as well. The 1970s styled costume design is great, especially for Farmiga. I think it’s interesting to see how they plan to catch demonic activity before advanced technology. The scares are simplistic but endlessly effective and memorable, and the imagery and crazy spooks stick with you. A lot of this is edge-of-your-seat, sweat-on-your-palms scary. I think something that is impressive is that the film doesn’t lose its footing when the entity’s revealed, it gets even better.

James Wan is a master at creating a haunting film like this. He understands the atmosphere and creates it realistically. The always switching camera angles and points of view keep things interesting and refreshing. The cinematography is just great, and the editing just as awesome. Something that makes this film a bit more ominous is that it’s based on true events. To think that this can happen to you is really scary. Some scares are foreshadowed, and sometimes the simplest of developments (foggy breath, shadows following each family member) prove to be some of the most chilling.

This is the best horror film of 2013, just beating out Evil Dead. It all leads up to one phenomenal finale, and what’s more memorable is how the finale has a lot going on, spanning different settings, but manages to have great focus. This also has one hell of a memorable exorcism scene.

Score92/100

My most anticipated movies of July

Hi everyone, this is my post for the movies I’m most anticipating this month. I’m going to leave out the ones I’m not anticipating (but will be seeing), because who wants to write a paragraph about a movie they’re not particularly passionate about? (I’m talking about you, GROWN UPS 2.) I’ll be writing reviews about those said movies, but that’s for another day – and I love writing reviews. So, that’s good, then. I’ll start with a few thoughts on the movies I can wait for, but I am looking forward to watching.

Fruitvale Station (7/12)

Fruitvale Station (7/12)

Plot: The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.

I like a good bio pic and a good emotional drama, so I’m intrigued by this. It also has critics raving, so I’m hoping it’s good. I thought Michael B. Jordan is great in CHRONICLE, and I like Octavia Spencer in just about anything.

Red 2 (7/19)

Red 2 (7/19)

Plot: Retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device.

I can mostly wait for this one because I haven’t seen the first. I own it, so I’ll watch that this week or next or something, and then maybe I’ll be a bit more excited about this one. I love a good crime comedy, and the cast intrigues me.

R.I.P.D. (7/19)

R.I.P.D. (7/19)

Plot: A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department and tries to find the man who murdered him.

I don’t know if this will be a box office hit – but it does look very amusing. I love the first and third MIB movies, so I’m pretty intrigued by this. It looks fun, and Jeff Bridges has many great one-liners in the trailer.

The To Do List (J7/26)

The To Do List (7/26)

Plot: Feeling pressured to become more sexually experienced before she goes to college, Brandy Clark makes a list of things to accomplish before hitting campus in the fall.

This looks like a predictable comedy, but it does look very funny. I like EASY A a lot, and this seems to have similar awkward humour. I’m curious to see how Aubrey Plaza will do in her first leading lady role. (I’ve seen a few episodes of TV’s PARKS AND RECREATION and it’s just hilarious.) There are some real laugh-out loud moments in the trailer, especially Clark Gregg’s thoughts on taking the back door.

Turbo (7/17)

Turbo (7/17)

Plot: A freak accident might just help an everyday garden snail achieve his biggest dream: winning the Indy 500.

I like the voice cast and the simple thought of Ken Jeong voicing a little Asian grandma makes me giggle. This looks like DreamWorks Animation’s answer to CARS and FAST & FURIOUS, and maybe even RATATOUILLE (instead of rats and cooking, it’s snails and racing). I think the idea’s just as silly as Stuart Little playing soccer, I mean, this little snail is probably going to get run over. I think I’ll enjoy the movie a lot, regardless.

The Wolverine (7/26)

The Wolverine (7/26)

Plot: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.

This looks pretty cool. I’m not huge on superhero movies, but I do enjoy the X-MEN movies. I’ll have to have a marathon soon to pump up for this one a bit more. It looks good, but it could be so much better if Darren Aronofsky really did end up directing it. I guess I’m really just hoping it’s better than X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE.

Now these are the ones I’m really excited for. 

5. Pacific Rim (7/12)

5. Pacific Rim (7/12)

Plot: When an alien attack threatens the Earth’s existence, giant robots piloted by humans are deployed to fight off the menace.

I think this looks awesome. I haven’t seen any GODZILLA movies, but I like a good monster movie. And, this is monsters AND robots. Whoa. It sounds like it could be everything BATTLESHIP and TRANSFORMERS aspired to be. Lots of fun, and well-made. And Del Toro is at the helm! I might have to re-watch CLOVERFIELD and find a GODZILLA movie online this week to get a bit more excited. It seems action-packed, and frankly, I want to see the movie right now, and not just the trailer. But I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing Idris Elba shout, “Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!”

3. Only God Forgives (7/19)

4. Only God Forgives (7/19)

Plot: Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother’s recent death.

I love Ryan Gosling and the director, Nicholas Winding Refn, and DRIVE is one of my favourite movies of 2011. The story intrigues me, as well. While critics haven’t exactly been praising the movie, I think it could be pretty awesome. It might be wavering my expectations ever-so-slightly, but I’m still really looking forward to it.

3. The Conjuring (7/19)

3. The Conjuring (7/19)

Plot: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.

I think James Wan is a fantastic director. I’ll have to watch INSIDIOUS to get a vibe of his atmospheric haunting flicks, though. This looks absolutely terrifying, and while I’ll probably be watching the movie through the my fingers, I can hardly wait. Vera Farmiga is great, too. The trailer creeps the hell out of me, and I love it. The true story edge is even spookier – so, I just want it to be July 19 already. It would be great if this will birth a Warren files franchise.

2. The Way, Way Back (7/5)

2. The Way, Way Back (7/5)

Plot: 14-year-old Duncan’s summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and his daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park.

I love a good coming-of-age tale. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is my second-favourite movie of 2012. And THE DESCENDANTS is one of my favourite movies of 2011. Two of the Oscar-winning writers from that movie (Nat Faxon, supporting actor in most of the Broken Lizard movies, and Jim Rash, the Dean on TV’s COMMUNITY) co-write and direct this one. I love the cast so much. Steve Carrell as a major jerk, Sam Rockwell, Rash in a supporting role, AnnaSophia Robb, and Rob Corddry, Toni Colette and Allison Janney. Suffice to say, it sounds amazing – and I can hardly wait for this to come to my city.

1. Despicable Me 2 (7/3)

1. Despicable Me 2 (7/3)

Plot: Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal.

I love the original DESPICABLE ME 2. This sequel looks amazing and hilarious. I can hardly wait for it. I love Gru and the minions, and I think this will be a real winner with a lot of heart and some great action. And new villains, of course. This is not only my most anticipated movie of July – but it’s probably my most anticipated movie of the year. (But, I’ll have to make a list to see if that’s true. I might be a bit more excited for KICK-ASS 2.) I can’t wait to have a second helping of the minion madness, though. Anything under a score of 75 will be disappointing. I hope this is in the same league as the first.

Here’s all of the movies opening in July: http://www.imdb.com/movies-coming-soon/2013-07/