[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.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Kimiko Glenn, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage, Liev Schreiber

Screenplay: Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman

117 mins. Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language.

IMDb Top 250: #26 (as of 1/13/2019)

 

I was pretty certain that the Sony Animation Spider-Man movie would disappear into obscurity. Sony, as a company, has been throwing everything at the Spider-Man IP and hoping something would stick. After making a deal to get Spider-Man into the MCU, they proceeded to make a Venom movie not featuring Spider-Man, talks of a Kraven the Hunter film and a Silver and Black film, and then there’s Into the Spider-Verse. None of these properties excited me on the outset, but I was at the very least quite thankful to see Miles Morales finally get the big screen treatment.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore, Dope, The Pretenders) is a teen struggling with his identity. He attends a boarding school that he doesn’t feel at home in. He looks up to Spider-Man but his father, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry, Hotel Artemis, TV’s Atlanta) sees the masked crusader as a menace. All Miles wants is to have purpose, and when he is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops powers similar to Spider-Man’s, he finds that this may be his chance. Matters are complicated, though, when he runs into Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson, Tag, TV’s New Girl), a Spider-Man not from his universe. That’s not all. Spider-People from all different universes are converging on Miles’s world, and they must work together to fix the problem and get them all home while they still can.

Into the Spider-Verse is an assault on the senses, and I mean that in the best possible way. My eyes actually needed to adjust to the intense color display and terrific voicework displayed in the film. This film actually forced a new animation amalgam to be attempted in order to give it that “jumps off the comic book page” look that makes the film so damn pretty. The process involved rendering the 3D images and then working over them with 2D drawing to give it a comic book panel look. It’s gorgeous and altogether the most impressive feat of the film.

Beyond all that, Into the Spider-Verse has such an impressive and relatable story. Miles is a kid who doesn’t fit in. He even becomes Spider-Man but he doesn’t believe that he is worthy of the mantle. Peter B. Parker is a man who has lost the woman he loves because he was incapable of being the man he needs to be. Even Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, TV’s Ray Donovan), the Kingpin, has an understandable motive for his menacing plot. During all this, I didn’t feel the stakes of the film very much, and that’s a fault, but it was so fun to watch that it didn’t bother me like it should’ve.

Into the Spider-Verse subverts expectations so well. There are genuinely surprising moments, twists, and turns in the film, something not easy to do with a character/franchise that is seven films over the past twenty years. The Stan Lee cameo in the film just has so much more packed within it, especially given our tremendous loss this past year. The film even sends up the post-credits scene with theirs, and I won’t spoil it, but it’s my favorite moment in the film.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a strange movie, and it’s also totally brilliant. It exists perfectly on its own, even though some would argue that it is a sequel to the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man films (and I agree). It’s to Spider-Man what Cabin in the Woods is to horror films, in that it validates everything without being beholden to any of it. But beyond all that, it’s an amazing story of finding oneself among the craziness of life. It’s a special damn movie. Go see it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Kyle’s Top Ten Worst Films of 2018

2018 has come to an end, and there were so many amazing movies. There were also some stinkers. Some real stinkers. There were a lot of surprisingly disappointing films and there were some that just didn’t work at want they tried to be. I kept thinking to myself that there were so many films that I liked in 2018 that coming up with ten bad ones would be tough. It was not tough. It was only tough whittling down to 10.

Just a couple of notes:

  • I didn’t see every movie in 2018. I didn’t see every bad film in 2018. This is a list of the worst films that I saw.
  • This is my personal list. You may have loved one or all of these. I did not.
  • I still have not seen The Emoji Movie from 2017. Just letting you all know.

 

Alright, let’s hold hands and get this over with…

 

10. Tag

-Well, one of them had to win. Game Night and Tag were released in the same year, and I honestly didn’t realize going into 2018 that they were different films until the first trailers dropped for each. Game Night was one of the better films of the year, and Tag was just…not. The film was over-the-top and unrealistic and I didn’t buy that the story was anywhere close to the true story that it was based on.  It becomes all the more apparent how bad Tag really is when compare to its obvious alternate in Game Night, but the real crime of Tag is its complete lack of comedy. I found myself hoping to laugh, praying. Nothing, though. Tag just isn’t It.

 

9. Winchester

Winchester is a film that should have been good. I like the Spierig brothers. I’ve enjoyed all of their films to this point. Winchester is based on the infamous Winchester haunted house. Starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke, this just seemed to have it all put together. It just wasn’t scary and became rather dull. Just like Tag‘s lack of comedy, Winchester‘s lack of fright just kills it. It’s the kind of film that should have been more epic in nature being a house filled with the dead. It could have become a franchise built around a different spirit each go-around, but it just falls flat.

 

8. Early Man

Early Man is probably the only film on my list that I know many people loved. I spoke to many other reviewers who gave Early Man recognition. For me, the film started out strong as a film about the early periods in humanity, and then it devolved into a soccer movie. Ugh. I loved it until it became a soccer movie. I had no interest in the direction of the film at that point. Most of the jokes fell flat at that point and I just couldn’t wait for it to be over. This may be irrational distaste, but it is distaste nonetheless. I did not like it at all.

 

7. Life Itself

Life Itself didn’t really hit me until a day after I saw it. I remember being very confused about the whole thing. I couldn’t decide it I liked it or not until some time passed. Then, I started to really think about it, and not long after, I realized all the problems that existed in the film. Then, I remember hatred. It all became clear to me that the film was nothing but schmaltzy depression under the visage of a romantic drama. It’s so poorly constructed and manipulative. The more time I thought about it, the more it dropped to the worst of the pile for 2018. I’d prefer not to think of it anymore.

 

6. Mile 22

Mile 22 is just boring, which isn’t a good sign for an action film. It’s really unimpressive. The character of Alice (played by Lauren Cohan) is written really poorly, with most of the character arc being about her as a woman on this team. Lastly, the twist at the ending caused a really dumb and disappointing finale. The film without the twist might not have made this list, but the ending leaves such a bad taste in my mouth that it crossed the line into my least favorite films of the year. It might be time to end the Mark Wahlberg/Peter Berg relationship.

 

5. I Can Only Imagine

-I caught some heat this year for claiming this movie looked terrible based on the trailer. Several of my followers claimed that I was against this film for being religious, so let me say it right here: this is a bad movie, and it has nothing to do with its subject material. The film, about the creation of the title song, is filled with bad writing. The leads in the film have nothing to do but read their lines and the performances become Lifetime-movie level because of it. I couldn’t wait for it to come to an end, and I found that it took far too long to get there. Overall, I Can Only Imagine is a bad film because of its writing and editing.

 

4. Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves is just too damn long. This is such a long movie and the finale twist doesn’t work. Gerard Butler is such an unlikable lead and there’s no reason for me to root for it. Pablo Schreiber is not an interesting or complex villain. Outside of these two and O’Shea Jackson, I can barely remember any of the other characters in this film. I found myself not interested in anything going on and I didn’t want to finish the movie. I did it for you, though. You are welcome.

 

3. Fifty Shades Freed

-If there’s one nice thing to say about Fifty Shades Freed, it’s this: at least the fucking thing is over. Thank God the Fifty Shades trilogy is done. Fifty Shades Freed is so boring and bland. This movie should have the hot and steamy film that it promises to be, and yet, it is empty of any worth. It’s too bad that this wasn’t a better series because the erotic thriller subgenre has virtually gone extinct and this had a chance to bring it back. Well, it’s based on a shitty book series, so there you have it.

 

2. 12 Strong

-There’s a central theme to this year’s bad films and it is that there were a lot of boring movies this year. 12 Strong was one of those films. There’s just no style to this movie and Chris Hemsworth is incapable of carrying this film. I like Hemsworth, but he does not save the film. 12 Strong just didn’t captivate me at all, and none of the characters were likable nor interesting. It’s just a forgettable film. That’s the gift it gives us.

 

1. Slender Man

Slender Man was the dumbest idea of 2018. First of all, it isn’t even based on the game that Slender Man appears in. It’s based on the flimsy urban legend. After that, it’s a shitty script with terrible performances, lost direction, and some of the worst editing I’ve ever seen. You can blame studio interference (and I do) or you can blame all the other faults I’ve mentioned (and I do), but it’s a mixture of just how bad this movie is. It’s easily the worst film of 2018.

 

So there we are. These are the worst films of 2018. Thank God it’s done.

Is there something I missed here? What did you think was the worst film of 2018? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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