Annabelle: Creation (Sandberg; 2017)

2016’s crop of horror movies was one of the best we’d seen in years if not decades.  It didn’t bring us any classics like Alien or The Shining, no, but the overall quality of films in the genre as a whole was a giant leap beyond what we’d been getting.  The best of those films, in my opinion, was Lights Out which was a truly scary film with smart characters, a plot not overly reliant on cheap tricks, and a higher purpose than just scaring its audience.  The biggest pleasant surprise of the horror genre, and really of any film for the whole year, was from Ouija: Origin of Evil which, as a prequel to the worst film of 2014 horror or otherwise, gave us a memorable and scary movie with realistic characters, intelligent writing, and a truly distinctive feel.  The horror movies of 2017 have continued the streak of better quality, but nothing so far has been as good as those two films.  With Annabelle: Creation being made by the director of Lights Out, David Sandbergand starring the ever so creepy Lulu Wilson form Ouija: Origin of Evil , however, things were looking like the true horror movie season could be starting out on a high note.

Annabelle: Creation, much like Ouija: Origin of Evil, is the prequel to a not so great 2014 horror movie (which itself was a prequel to a very good horror movie – The Conjuring) in which a family is terrorized by devil worshipers and an evil doll.  This is the story of how the doll came to be the conduit of evil which we see in the 2014 film.  Annabelle: Creation focuses on a group of girl orphans who are taken in by a couple who lost their own daughter twelve years earlier in an accident.  The patriarch of the family was once a toy maker and he keeps his daughter’s room exactly as it was when she died, though he warns the girls newly under his care to never, ever go into her room and that the door is to always stay locked.   Of course, one of the girls just can’t resist the temptation to go in, and when she does, the doll Annabelle is unleashed on the household.

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Annabelle: Creation is another prequel which stands head and shoulders above the film it is based upon.  Annabelle was a typical stupid horror movie which wouldn’t work if the characters acted like real people relying nearly entirely on obvious jump scares for its “horror”.  Which, of course, means it wasn’t really scary at all, merely surprising and surprising in a cheap manner, at that.    The prequel, while certainly not without its flaws and pitfalls, is much better written.  Seemingly incidental events are brought back later to haunt us making the power of the scare more intense when we can see the set up.  The characters seem like caricatures who make dumb decisions at times, but again, the movie often brings things back around shedding light on what earlier seemed like bad cliche giving the scares some poignancy, as well.  Not every bad horror stereotype present in the film gets this treatment, unfortunately, there are some jump scares which are merely jump scares, but it happens often enough that you get a bit of a wry smile when you realize that the film makers are playing off of your expectations.

The acting by the ensemble cast is also very well done, especially since so many of them are children.  Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia are the most recognizable names in the cast, and they are both quite good as the Mullins, the creepy owners of the house turned orphanage, and both are able to give some nuance to the people who seem at first to be stereotypes.  Lulu Wilson and Talitha Bateman play the focal orphan girls of the story, and both are excellent child actors, with Wilson in particular managing to greatly differentiate herself from the role she played last year in a very similar movie showing that she isn’t just playing herself.  Bateman also needs commendation in her performance showing a character who has true self awareness, and this is something most children her age lack in themselves, let alone have the ability to project that quality onto a character they portray.  The remaining cast don’t stand out quite as much as these four, but all do great work at ably toeing the line between cliche and authenticity the film calls for, the only one standing out in a perhaps negative fashion being Stephanie Sigman as Sister Charlotte who avoids stereotype in her caretaker nun character by simply being dull.

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The type of horror on display here is not of the slasher variety, there is very little gore on display here, in fact, excepting for one particularly grisly scene which is probably what garners the film its R-rating.  The scares here are more of a fear of the supernatural unknown variety ala The Exorcist.  Annabelle: Creation doesn’t bring us anything truly new where scares are concerned.  Aside from the fact that charcter decisions are revealed to not be as silly and arbitrary as was first believed, the source of the horror here we’ve seen many times before.  That being said, it’s still about as well done as can be expected, utilizing perspective, pacing, and timing excellently to scare you even though you can see the scares coming.

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Final verdict: If you are a horror aficionado, Annabelle: Creation is a borderline must see film.  It’s a film that, while steeped in cliches of the genre, uses those cliches as well as they can possibly be used making for an interesting study if that’s your thing, or just a really fun scary movie if that’s more your style.  While those who aren’t horror movie buffs won’t enjoy this film quite as much, Annabelle: Creation still has respectable acting, interesting writing, and excellent technical work backing it up making for an experience you will most likely enjoy even if it’s your horror movie loving friend or significant other dragging you along to see it.  If you despise horror films, or just have a low tolerance for nightmare inducing images, then this is a film to avoid.  It’s a good example of the genre, but not one which will elevate itself to a status where all audiences will enjoy it, and it is horrific enough that I guarantee it will give all but the most jaded among us the creeps when the lights are out for a couple days afterward.

 

The Best and Worst Movies of 2016, so far (Part 3)

As indicated by the title, this is the third part of a series, but unlike the first two parts of the series which endeavored to use the films I feel are the best and worst of the year to date in order to show how I come by my ratings for movies, this one is merely intended to finish the best and worst list, and thus will not go into as great of detail on the way I view the inner workings of each of the movies.

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Warcraft directed by Duncan Jones and starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, and Ben Foster

An unfortunate entry in the canon of otherwise very promising director Duncan Jones, Warcraft is an obvious labor of love that can never seem to find any kind of consistency, even internally.  Visuals are fantastic for the character effects, but horrible for nearly everything else.  Rules for magic make for interesting plot development, but are forgotten about whenever they are inconvenient.  It is hard to tell who the film is made for since important scenes go unexplained, making it look as if it is made for people already very familiar with the game and its world, but it spends much of its time explaining details that these very same people should know intimately and thus wasting time which could be better spent on character and plot development.

Overall:  3.6 out of 10

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Independence Day: Resurgence directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman

The first Independence Day was a dumb but fun alien invasion piece that threw every stereotype of such films in the book at us, but at least did it in the best possible way.  Independence Day: Resurgence has all the dumb stereotypes, but almost none of the charm and fun of the original.  The only thing which this movie has going for it are the admittedly quite impressive special effects, but the acting is either wooden or hammy, the writing absolutely incompetent, and directing practically non-existent.

Overall:  3.6 out of 10

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Star Trek Beyond directed by Justin Lin and starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban

Star Trek Beyond combined the thoughtfulness and themes of the original show with the fast paced action of the rebooted universe to create something the ends up being the best of both worlds.  Add to that the fact that the well known and loved Star Trek characters have never had quite this much depth of character nor been portrayed quite as well as they are here and you have a movie that must be included in any conversation about the greatest Star Trek stories ever told.

Overall: 8.0 out of 10

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Lights Out directed by David E Sandberg and starring Teresa Palmer and Gabriel Bateman

Lights Out is the greatest example of what a low budget horror movie can be.  It relies more on psychology than on jump scares and special effects.  It has strong themes meaning you not only have something to think about when the movie is over, but the scares have a purpose and commentary behind them.  It’s good to see that word of mouth got so many going to see this one, because it has all the makings of a one day classic.

Overall:  8.2 out of 10

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Jason Bourne directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, and Alicia Vikander

Jason Bourne is the name of a movie and a character which have both become mundane, predictable, and disappointing.  To say this fifth film in the series is more of the same would be to give it a little too much credit.  It’s realistic bits are dull, and as if it realized this it decided to go too over the top in its climax to remain consistent in tone.  At least the acting was decent.

Overall:  3.6 out of 10

And that’s it for my and of summer wrap up of the best and worst of 2016 to date.  These entries include only major theatrical releases and not limited release, straight to DVD/streaming video services, nor my reviews over the last couple of weeks as I feel I need more time to dwell on those to adequately place them (though, I have a strong feeling Deadpool will have to make room for Kubo and the Two Strings come year end when I do top 10 best and worst.

Let me know what you think of the list in the comments, and tell me what your favorites, and your favorites to hate on, are.