Annabelle Movie Review 0 93

annabelle-movie-review

After the huge success of The Conjuring, which partly featured a possessed doll named Annabelle, it was pretty much inevitable we’d be getting some sort of sequel or spin-off. An official sequel is already on the way but before then the prequel has landed; depicting the terrifying story of the doll’s past.

Taking place a year before the doll appears in The Conjuring, we follow a young married couple who have just moved into a new house in the suburbs and are expecting their first baby. Shortly after moving in, they become the victims of a horrific home invasion by a couple of satanic cultists. Thereafter they start to experience supernatural disturbances that are linked to the doll; a gift the husband bought for his wife.

I’m sorry to say that fans of The Conjuring will be severally let down by this; the film just isn’t scary enough. Apart from one or two moments that show spooky promise for the talent of director John R. Leonetti (producer James Wan’s cinematographer on both The Conjuring and the Insidious movies) there’s nothing much going on here beyond cheap jump scare tactics and endless close-ups of Annabelle’s perpetually staring face; it’s all just failed attempts to compete with the scares of its doll-linked horror cousin. The only truly scary thing about it is just how lacklustre the terror is. Even the score by Joseph Bishara (also of The Conjuring and Insidious) isn’t enough to make hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

The Conjuring also had the added bonus of starring first-class actors such as Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston and Lily Taylor. Unfortunately this dramatic weight is lacking in the prequel’s cast. The performances of Ward Horton and (the coincidentally named) Annabelle Wallis aren’t bad – they portray the loving couple increasingly terrified by strange bumps in the night pretty convincingly – but they’re just very forgettable, saddled by bland characters that are as clichéd as they are uninteresting. We aren’t given any compelling reasons to care about the protagonists, and that’s a big issue when the central plot depends on whether or not they’re going to survive.

The clichés bleed through from the characters and the attempts at scares to the plot itself. Although the idea of the doll may be an inherently ludicrous one, this was just one of the many puzzle pieces that made up the brilliant The Conjuring. Here, it just doesn’t result in the same magic when focusing the entire plot around her. Things tip over the edge with the introduction of a priest (played by Tony Amendola) that spouts demon mumbo-jumbo that’s as silly as it is frustratingly generic, putting it more in the box with, for example, the lacklustre The Last Exorcism Part II than scary classic The Exorcist. It’s a real issue when the audience are snickering at moments which are supposed to have them cowering behind their fingers. Its incessant po-faced approach to its premise and scares ironically just makes it all the less effective as a horror movie.

The hope with any spin-off is that it can shine a fresh light on a story with which we’re familiar, adding new perspective to the mythology and generally make its own distinctive mark while at the same time tying into what we already know. Unfortunately Annabelle doesn’t do any of that. While it’s not the worst film of the year, it’s nevertheless nothing more than a cynical and pointless cash-in on an already successful entity.

This review was previously published on Scotcampus.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 358

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 388

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10