[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 12 – Annabelle (2014)

Director: John R. Leonetti
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Norton, Alfre Woodard
Screenplay: Gary Dauberman
99 mins. Rated R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror.

Who would’ve thought that the second-best cinematic universe (after Marvel) in film currently would be the Conjuring Universe? I certainly didn’t peg that, but when The Conjuring first hit cinemas, I knew this was something special I was seeing. I had become a huge fan of James Wan from all the way back with Saw, Dead Silence, and Death Sentence (the latter being cosmically underrated), and I had always been a supporter of his, but I had no idea how strong a storytelling and visionary filmmaker he was. It was only natural to expand on the mythos of The Conjuring, so I was very excited to see where this film, a prequel featuring the mysterious doll from The Conjuring’s cold open, would go. The film garnered very poor reviews, but I eventually got a chance to see it? Was it really that big a step down in quality?

Annabelle is set some time before we meet the Warrens from The Conjuring. Instead, we are introduced to Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis, X-Men: First Class, Tag) and her husband John (Ward Horton, The Wolf of Wall Street, Ford v Ferrari). Mia is pregnant with their first child, and the couple seems very happy at this stage of their lives, but one horrible night the two are beset upon by cult members who have invaded their home, they quickly find that evil lurks in their home, evil that desperately wants Mia’s child, evil that is seemingly attached to a doll of Mia’s with a dark past.

I’ve been critical of John R. Leonetti (The Silence, Wish Upon) as a director for quite some time. I think he’s a great director of photography on a great many films. He knows how to set up a shot. In the case of directing, there’s a lot more to it that seems to go unattended. Acting, sound work, creating mood and tone through pacing. Leonetti doesn’t seem to have a handle of these things yet. He’s gotten a lot better than the mess that was Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and his more recent attempts have shown even more improvement, but he needs to focus on bettering these aspects of his filmmaking in order to really be successful. He also doesn’t have much of a handle on scares, as Annabelle is easily the least tense and frightening of The Conjuring Universe’s 7 films. For comparison, the best sequences in the film, the elevator sequence, was guest-directed by James Wan. I can see how much Leonetti learned from working with Wan and observing his filmmaking style, but he needs to up his game in several other areas that are noticeably troublesome in Annabelle.

Wallis and Horton are slightly wood as Mia and John (obvious references to Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, the actors from Rosemary’s Baby), but Alfre Woodard (Captain America: Civil War, 12 Years a Slave) steals every scene as next-door neighbor Evelyn. Her story has hints of sadness and doses of gravitas from the veteran actress, and she adds an extra layer doing a lot of the heavy lifting here. Also carrying a lot of weight in the film is Tony Amendola as Father Perez. Both he and Woodard are responsible for a heavy amount of exposition but they are able to get it across without weighing down the narrative too much.

Gary Dauberman (It, Wolves at the Door) wrote the screenplay for Annabelle, and there are noticeable issues with his work. Dauberman has honed his skills quite nicely in recent years (he did a lot of heavy lifting with It: Chapter Two) but he was still pretty early in his career when he crafted Annabelle, and his reliance on repeating exposition and constantly reminding the audience of info we’d already gotten (yes, Mia is pregnant and yes, Charlie Manson is bad) is pretty rough.

Annabelle shows a fundamental step down in quality from The Conjuring. Is it a bad movie? On the whole, no, it’s merely okay. It just feels like a bad movie coming off the powerhouse that was The Conjuring. It’s a messy movie, a disappointing movie, but not inherently bad. In fact, there’s some really cool moments on that display. I like the elevator scene, and the visuals are pretty striking, and I also think that this was made better by following the prequel Annabelle: Creation, which fixed some of the narrative issues. Should that count for it? Maybe not, but I’m going to because Creation did strengthen this film. It’s not great, but there are a lot worse horror movies to watch. Annabelle is fine…ish.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Corin Hardy’s The Nun, click here.
For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.
For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.
For my review of Gary Dauberman’s Annabelle Comes Home, click here.
For my review of Michael Chaves’s The Curse of La Llorona, click here.
For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Director: Gary Dauberman

Cast: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

106 mins. Rated R for horror violence and terror.

 

The Conjuring Universe had a big year with the release of the distantly-related The Curse of La Llorona and the film we’re going to talk about today, the third film in the Annabelle series and the seventh film in the universe, Annabelle Comes Home. How does it fit within the framework and does it successfully continue expanding the franchise mythos? Let’s find out.

Ed (Patrick Wilson, The Phantom of the Opera, Aquaman) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air, Captive State) have taken possession of the haunted doll Annabelle, and now she sits within a glass protective case in a locked room of their home. No one is allowed access. When they depart on an overnight trip for work, their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace, Gifted, Captain Marvel) is left with babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween). They are both well-aware to stay away from the room and its many dangerous items, but Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife, Twisted Sisters, TV’s Youth & Consequences) comes over and inadvertently leaves the room unlocked. Now, the spirit attached to Annabelle has awakened everything that resides in the room, and it’s up to Judy and Mary Ellen to survive the night and get Annabelle back in her case.

My biggest criticism of Annabelle Comes Home is that I didn’t find the film scary at all. That’s not a big fault on it because, while not being very scary, this installment is loads of fun. I loved visiting the many different corners of creep within the Warren’s protection room. I really liked the new additions of the Ferryman and the Samurai warrior of the Oni (though I’m not yet convinced that either one could carry its own film), and there are a lot of cool setups and sequences in the film. I kind of wish that the werewolf was saved for The Conjuring 3 because it has a really cool story attached to it and could’ve made a really cool standalone film, but that’s not where The Conjuring 3 is going now.

I think part of the problem with the lack of tension and fear in the film is the director, Gary Dauberman. Dauberman is known for having a hand in a lot of horror in recent years, including several other Conjuring Universe films and It, but he’s never directed, and I don’t think he was as successful in building the tension. He has the ability to create fear on the page, but he needs some more practice on creating it on the screen.

I really liked the dynamic between Judy and Mary Ellen. I think Mckenna Grace and Madison Iseman have great chemistry, which is very good considering so much of the film relies heavily on these two performances. On the other hand, I was less than impressed by Katie Sarife. It’s a mixture of some poor writing for the character, making her a bit too unlikable, and the performance, which just didn’t do anything for me.

I like the addition of Ed and Lorraine Warren to the story. I think, while not starring in the film, they add a layer of validity to the story and really help to bring this whole universe together. It always felt to me that The Conjuring films were seen as higher importance because Ed and Lorraine never appeared in the other films, but I think that the way they are utilized here really helps with the connective tissue that a universe thrives on.

Annabelle Comes Home is in the middle ground of the Annabelle series and the Conjuring Universe as a whole, and this sounds like a criticism, but it really isn’t. I had a lot of fun watching the movie, but it doesn’t capture horror the way both Conjuring films or the superior Annabelle: Creation did. It’s still miles ahead of the first Annabelle film, showing that the filmmakers know how to learn from their mistakes, and it creates a bright new avenue for where this franchise can go next. Check out Annabelle Comes Home for all that creepy Night at the Museum-level fun.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Corin Hardy’s The Nun, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.

For my review of Michael Chaves’s The Curse of La Llorona, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

Shazam! (2019)

Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou

Screenplay: Henry Gayden

132 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material.

 

After the success of Aquaman, it seems like the DCEU may finally be righting the ship with their cinematic universe, and now, only a few months later, the question remains as to whether or not they can actually bring a wacky character like Captain Marvel (no, not that one) to life. Well, I have the answers you seek.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel, Driven to Dance, TV’s Andi Mack) has been bounced from one foster home to another for years following his accidental separation from his mother as a child. He’s been given one last chance with a large foster family run by Victor and Rosa Vasquez. Billy, not one to settle, struggles with connecting to his new family, but while fleeing bullies after defending foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, It, Beautiful Boy), Billy finds himself pulled out of the world, landing in a strange place where a mythical wizard (Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond, Captain Marvel) informs Billy that he’s been chosen as the new champion, Shazam. After saying the word Shazam, Billy finds himself transformed into an older and much more powerful version of himself, and he doesn’t quite know how to fix it, but Freddy might.

It seems like the DCEU has finally adopted the MCU viewpoint of developing great stories that just so happen to include superheroes. The screenplay by Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) is, first and foremost, a film about family, both the search for one and the power of finding one, and its themes permeate the story with subtle moments that use the Shazam lore to expose character and progress plot nicely. The emotional beats of the film ring true in a lot of ways, and it’s great to see representation like this on film.

Beyond all that, Shazam! is a ton of fun. The tone of Big as a superhero film is perfect, and it weaves seamlessly into the darker material surrounding Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, TV’s Deep State). The film takes its source material seriously while pointing fun at what would happen if a teenager all of a sudden gained superhuman powers. This is a movie that is perfectly encapsulated within its trailers, as opposed to a tonally troubling film like Suicide Squad which was sold on one tone and struggled to find one in the finished product.

Zachary Levi (Blood Fest, TV’s Chuck), who plays the heroic older Billy/Shazam, is a kinetic and magical onscreen presence. He consistently shines as a superheroic version of a teenager, and he’s believable in the role, something many performers before have struggled with. I bought into the whole thing quite well. His interactions with Jack Dylan Grazer were pitch-perfect.

Mark Strong is mostly great as Dr. Sivana, but the one problem with his arc is that he is another DC villain who falls prey to the DCEU villain problem. It took Marvel some time to dig out of this as well, and Dr. Sivana is a step in the right direction, but parts of his villainy devolve into CG monster territory.

Shazam! had a tall order after its first few trailer gave us a feel for the tone of the film. I was excited but apprehensive because I’ve been hurt before by DCEU films like Suicide Squad which sold one tone but ultimately gave me a different one. Thankfully, David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) has done it again by crafting a film wholly different than any of the others he has been known for. Shazam! is aided by powerful turns from its entire principal cast, and it mostly dodges many of the pitfalls that its predecessors have fallen into. This is a fun and exciting superhero movie unique to its character and story and well worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out (2013), click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

[Early Review] The Nun (2018)

Director: Corin Hardy

Cast: Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

96 mins. Rated R for terror, violence, and disturbing/bloody images.

 

I’ve been a fan of The Conjuring universe since the first film, and outside of the original Annabelle film, I’ve found them to be very competently put together as individual films while also contributing nicely to a larger framework. Still, though, there’s been something rather concerning about The Nun and, looking to the future, The Crooked Man. What’s been bothering me about both films have been the narrative that’s been set up within The Conjuring 2. The Nun and The Crooked Man are both very connected to the Warrens and the specific case that they are working on within the film, The Crooked Man purposefully created as an apparition meant to frighten or horrify one particular child. I just couldn’t see how a film could be formed that respected the characters that have been built and forge a new interesting path. Last night, I saw The Nun at an early press screening, and while being a more competent film that expected, it still struggles to exist without hanging on previous films.

The Nun follows Father Burke (Demian Bichir, The Hateful Eight, Alien: Covenant), a sort-of Catholic detective, who is sent by the Vatican to investigate a horrible suicide by a nun at an abbey in Romania. He is joined by Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga, The Final Girls, TV’s American Horror Story), a novitiate who suffers from disturbing visions, as the two attempt to unravel the mystery of the suicide and determine what horrors lie within the walls of the abbey.

Comparatively speaking, The Nun is not the worst film in this universe, but it rest on the lower side of things for several small reasons that build to a less-than-incredible experience. The way the film starts made me feel like Warner Bros. put their hands in the post-production process as the opening has a minute-long prologue featuring a montage from The Conjuring 2 all about the Nun. It felt very unneeded and very forced as if the studio-head walked out in front of the audience at the beginning and shouted, “Remember the nun from The Conjuring 2? That’s what this movie is!” You don’t need that. I think without the forced connectivity to the rest of the universe, The Nun works fine as a standalone film. I took a friend to Annabelle: Creation who had only seen the original The Conjuring. He didn’t take issue with the universe connections and enjoyed himself nonetheless. There’s some overworking of the universe connections later on that also could have been trimmed as more of an Easter egg to fans instead of a full-blown forced explanation as well.

I also wasn’t a fan of secondary character Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet, Elle, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), the man who helps guide Father Burke and Sister Irene to the Abbey, and the humor he brings to the film. Bloquet is not entirely to blame here. I just found that the combination of the dialogue in Gary Dauberman’s (It, Within) script with Bloquet’s portrayal and the direction by Corin Hardy (The Hallow) combined to make some unfunny pieces of humor that didn’t fit the tone of the narrative. Nothing altogether cringeworthy, but just out of place.

Now, that’s not to say that I hated the film. Far from it. I found myself thoroughly interested in the mystery and the intrigue. I wanted more of it. I did jump quite a bit at some of the more well-planned out scares (though many of the scares are rather similar, someone getting stalked by a nun), and I mildly enjoyed the partnership between Bichir’s Burke and Farmiga’s Irene. It just wasn’t up to par with what I’ve come to expect.

All in all, The Nun is a scary enough film with a flawed screenplay and a little glaringly obvious studio assistance. It’s a nice enough film that should satisfy the audience even if it falls short of its franchise expectations.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen The Nun yet? What’s your favorite film in The Conjuring universe? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

109 mins. Rated R for horror violence and terror.

 

Hey everyone, I had the chance to catch an early screening for Annabelle: Creation, the prequel to a prequel to The Conjuring. If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Real quick, let’s track this franchise…

There are further planned films in The Conjuring Universe, including a third Conjuring film as well as further spin-offs for The Nun and The Crooked Man, but I’m digressing…

Annabelle: Creation is the story of a nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman, Spectre, Once Upon a Time in Venice), and a few orphaned girls who are taken in by the Mullins, Esther (Miranda Otto, TV’s 24: Legacy, War of the Worlds) and Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia, TV’s Without a Trace, The Assignment). Janice (Talitha Bateman, Nine Lives, The 5th Wave) immediately begins witnessing strange and unexplained events, seemingly surrounding a doll made by Mr. Mullins. Soon, Linda (Lulu Wilson, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Deliver Us from Evil), Janice’s best friend, starts to see it too, and she fears for Janice’s safety. It becomes clear that Mr. and Mrs. Mullins have a terrible secret hidden in their past that is about to break free and put the orphans in unimaginable danger.

First off, I have to say that I was very nervous about another Annabelle film. While I thought the first Annabelle film was okay, I understood that it existed within the larger framework of The Conjuring which was a truly excellent film and the difference in quality was just too wide. Then, I noticed that the prequel had the same screenwriter as the first film, Gary Dauberman (Swamp Devil, Within), and I assumed that we wouldn’t see anything too different from the original. Finally, I noticed that the film was pulled from its original release and placed in August. The studio reasoning for this was to avoid competition with Alien: Covenant, which made sense but also could’ve been a really good spin on the story.

But there was also good news bits. First, James Wan, director of The Conjuring and producer for Annabelle, explained that they had heard the reviews for Annabelle and were going to use the feedback to craft a stronger film. Then, David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) came aboard the project as a director. This is what kicked my excitement into full gear.

The finished project is a definite step up for the Annabelle series. Sandberg fills his film with frights and mood that stacks as the film progresses into an amazingly tense nail-biting finale. The performers were also very strong. We are seeing an amazing year for young female performers from films such as The Beguiled, and Bateman and Wilson are no exception. Their work, particularly in the scenes they share, is exemplary. Annabelle: Creation also holds strong with seasoned performers like Otto and LaPaglia that help to elevate the girls’ acting.

The film is not entirely without flaws, however, and Annabelle: Creation does suffer due to its somewhat simplistic storytelling. There isn’t a lot of shock to the film’s narrative and it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to engage its audience. Thankfully, Sandberg knows how to get the best that he can from his characters, but there are moments when Annabelle: Creation falls back on its tropes. There is just enough in the film that works that it didn’t ruin my enjoyment when the plot sauntered into cliché.

I also felt like the ending didn’t stand on its own but relied rather heavily on the audience’s awareness of the franchise. I don’t really want to get into it but the film doesn’t feel like it has an ending.

Overall, Annabelle: Creation is not likely to disappoint fans of the horror genre. There are genuinely creepy moments especially in the finale that work really well. For Sandberg, this isn’t a better outing than Lights Out but it proves that the director is capable of stepping into someone else’s sandbox and playing nice with it. Annabelle: Creation both excites me for Sandberg’s next project (Shazam for DC) as well as the further widening of The Conjuring Universe. I would advise horror fans to give the one a try.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Annabelle: Creation? What did you think of it? And what spin-off from The Conjuring are you most excited for? The Nun? The Crooked Man? A possible Annabelle 3? Let me know! Drop a comment below!

 

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman:

Facebook: Almighty Goatman Film Reviews

Twitter: @AlmightyGoatman

Instagram: @AlmightyGoatman

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑