horror

Review: ‘Annabelle: Creation’ is one of the scariest films of the year

Director: David F. Sandberg 

Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, and Alicia Vela-Bailey 

Synopsis: Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker's possessed creation, Annabelle (IMDb). 

Rated: R

Year: 2017

The flick of a switch was all it took for last year’s Lights Out to transition from fractured family drama to bone-chilling creature feature. This simple yet clever hook solidified David F. Sandberg as an original voice within a genre otherwise cursed by convention.

If the original Annabelle was anything, it was conventional. How many similarly lame haunted house flicks feature the happy family that falls victim to some demonic presence that they unknowingly let into their home? I cringe imagining the number.

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Now Sandberg inherits Annabelle’s unholy mantle and with it is tasked with crafting an unnecessary prequel to a spin-off nobody wanted. And though it’s just his second film, Sandberg whittles Annabelle: Creation with expert detail despite the lingering presence of a familiar formula.

The minute Sister Charloette (Stephanie Sigman) and the small band of orphan girls she looks after step into the massive, decrepit farmhouse that will become their new home, you know exactly how things are going to play out. It will be quiet at first with a bump in the night here and there until the tension slowly ratchets past ten to a climactic third act throwdown with whatever supernatural entity is antagonizing our poor protagonists.

And for the most part, Annabelle: Creation delivers on those story tropes. However, the focus here is on the scares and Sandberg cleverly utilizes tools of the trade to construct a relentless house of horrors. Lighting and composition perfectly capture the eerie stylization of The Conjuring universe and the manipulation of sound consistently forces your imagination to do the heavy lifting when most of what you’re seeing is pitch black.

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Once Sandberg starts showing you glimpses of what’s actually dwelling in the darkness, it lives up to any anything you might have concocted in your head. Special and practical effects often come together, often seamlessly, to create terrifying images that will permanently burn into your mind.

Sandberg also makes inventive use of the environment. Sure, we get a small sense of the layout of the house at the beginning while the Mullins’s playfully terrorize their young daughter Annabelle, but we don’t get to truly explore the old mansion until years later when the orphans arrive. The camera snakes in and out of corridors, establishing the larger physical space as well as specific details that all come into play once everything goes topsy-turvy.

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But technical prowess alone doesn’t get an audience emotionally invested. They have to care about the characters in order to care about what’s happening to them. Thankfully, the heart of ‘Creation’ belongs to Lulu Wilson (Oujia: Origin of Evil) and Talitha Bateman. Respectively, they play Linda and Janice, two orphans who are so close that they are practically sisters. In fact, they’ve made a pact to be adopted as a pair. Their deep love for each other is heartwarming and provides an emotional anchor the film.

The love doesn’t stop there. While the sisterly bond between the young orphans might have been enough to pull an audience in on its own merits, Sister Charlotte gets in on the love too. She plays the role of the orphans’ mother/big sister and it’s easy to tell she cares for them in that way. Stephanie Sigman does a nice job portraying both the loving and strict sides of Sister Charlotte without ever leaning too far into one or the other. It’s easy to root for these girls once the evil enters their lives.

Grade: A-

What did you all think of Annabelle: Creation? Was it better than the original? And are you now open to seeing more horror movie prequels? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re interested, check out our list of the best horror movie prequels of recent memory.

The Best Recent Horror Movie Prequels

Speaking in general terms, prequels get a bad rap and that seems to go double for horror prequels. This weekend sees the release of Annabelle: Creation, the prequel to Annabelle, which itself is a prequel to The Conjuring. If social media is any indication, it seems many have prematurely dismissed the forthcoming origin despite its official release still two days out.

It’s tough, though, to blame potential moviegoers for a lack of enthusiasm on their part regarding a second Annabelle movie. Sure the original scared up huge box office success, but the film was critically panned and nobody since has been clamoring for another go-around with the world’s creepiest doll.

Thankfully, recent history is on our side. No longer does a horror movie prequel automatically mean a horrible film. In fact, some have gone on to be better films than the original. Here are five recent examples of great prequels to horror films.

5. Insidious: Chapter 3

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Horror Master James Wan is a household name. After establishing two mega-popular tent poles (Saw and The Conjuring) and refueling another (Furious 7), he should be. But not every swing is a hit, even for great filmmakers. Insidious: Chapter 2 is a critical stain on Wan’s otherwise beloved resume. It left such a sour taste in audiences’ mouths that the third chapter shares so few ties with the first two installments, with of course the exception of Lin Shaye, who is an absolute delight as the series’ psychic. By stepping away from recognizable names and faces of Insidious and focusing on a new family while keeping a tight leash on tension, this prequel has breathed new life into these movies. Bring on Chapter Four!

4. Final Destination 5

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Where is a franchise to go following a fourth film called The Final Destination? Back to the beginning, of course! As it turns out, not such a bad call for the Final Destination franchise. While Final Destination 5 doesn’t do anything to win over new audiences, hardcore horror heads will no doubt revel in the prequel’s tongue-in-cheek sense of mischief and its effectively silly application of 3D technology. What’s more, ‘FD5′ features some of the series’ most ludicrous and memorable deaths (see: acupuncture Buddha and gymnastics splat-tastics).

3. Prometheus

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Prometheus is undoubtedly one of the most polarizing films to come out of the last decade. Many moviegoers praised Director Ridley Scott for imaginatively exploring new possibilities within the Alien universe and an equal number of people criticize the filmmaker for unnecessarily squatting over his cherished property (hence Ridley “Squat”). By its inclusion on this list, I’m sure you’ve already surmised that I tend to hang my hat on the former. That wasn’t always the case, though. Prior to Alien: Covenant, I thought Prometheus was a pretentious cash grab that promised answers but ultimately left me with more questions. After seeing where Ridley Scott plans to take the series, I’ve since changed my tune and see this film as the first act of a larger story featuring Michael Fassbender’s David, who is slowly becoming one of modern cinema’s greatest villains.

2. Paranormal Activity 3

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The original Paranormal Activity reinvigorated the found footage horror fad that lasted the better part of a decade. Paranormal Activity 2 was just more of the same. Instead of giving the same ol’ situation one more try, the third installment straight up jumps back to the eighties to explore the haunting of its lead heroines as young material girls living in a material world. The lack of contemporary tech forced Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost to roll with it and craft once in a lifetime scares. The result was a truly terrifying thriller.

1. Ouija: Origin of Evil

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Prequels are the life support systems of the horror genre. They’re a studio’s attempt to keep a lucrative franchise alive. Typically, that involves upping the ante on whatever the gruesome gimmick of that particular series is at the expense of coherent, compelling storytelling. Director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) managed to achieve both with his prequel to the dumpster fire that is Ouija. Through the course of a deliberately paced slow burn, Flanagan simultaneously builds his characters and his scares. Consequently, ‘Origin of Evil’ is as tender as it is frightening and a decided improvement over the first film.

There you have it. Good horror movie prequels do exist and we’ve been fortunate to get as many as we’ve had the past few years. Speaking for Annabell: Creation, David F. Sandberg showed us he knows original horror when he put out last year’s Lights Out. Plus he recently landed the Shazam! gig, so James Wan isn’t the only visionary who thinks Sandberg’s capable of creatively spinning existing material.

Let us know what you all thought about our list in the comments section below and be sure to include your list of best horror movie prequels.

‘Cult of Chucky’ Trailer #1 Reaction

Everyone’s favorite psychotic, homicidal doll is back! Watch along as we react to the first trailer for Cult of Chucky!

What do you all think of this first trailer? Are you in or are you out? Let us know in the comments below!

Review: Hollow script can’t keep ’47 Meters Down’ afloat

Director: Johannes Roberts

Starring: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine

Synopsis: Two sisters vacationing in Mexico are trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean. With less than an hour of oxygen left and great white sharks circling nearby, they must fight to survive (IMDb).

Rating: PG-13

Year: 2017

It seems every year or so we get a shark-based survival thriller. Last year Blake Lively was stranded just off shore by a Great White in The Shallows. This year Mandy Moore and Claire Holt are stranded at the bottom of the ocean. 47 Meters Down to be precise. Though despite the titular depth, this film’s script feels rather shallow.

Moore and Holt play sisters vacationing in Mexico after Moore’s boyfriend apparently left her for being “boring.” It’s here that younger sister Holt gets the bright idea that the two should go cage diving with total strangers whom they met the night before at a party as a way to make Stuart (that’s Moore’s ex-boyfriend) jealous. Take that, Stuart!

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It’s become a rule at this point: B-list thrillers must feature stupid people making stupid decisions. 47 Meters Down happily obliges. Actually, it’s borderline offensive how idiotic these ladies are. Neither of them point out how dangerous the whole situation is, even after something like, oh I don’t know, blatantly acknowledging the poor condition of the diving cage as well as the illegal chumming of the water that the men of the “Sea Esta” engage in.

When Moore does eventually begin to have second thoughts, Holt snaps her back to party girl mode simply by reminding her how totally jealous Stuart will be once he sees the pictures of them underwater with real sharks. That’s how shallow and cliché the catalyst that sets this plot into motion is. Ugh.

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As for the two handsome strangers who entice the ladies out to sea, they are not given names up to this point. They are only referred to as “the guys” by one of the sisters as a part of a throwaway comment. Even the captain of the ship (Matthew Modine) is introduced as “Captain.” Not Captain Taylor or Taylor, just “Captain.”

We learn so little about this trio of men during the course of the film that I was under the assumption that the filmmakers were intentionally withholding information for the purpose of revealing some shady intentions during an obligatory third act twist. Nope. The script simply did not call for any background development.

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The problem with not maturing your characters, especially in a thriller like this, is that your audience will be emotionally detached once the true horror starts biting down. Unfortunately, this was my experience with 47 Meters Down. There was so little to these characters that I felt isolated from and uninterested in what was happening to them.

In the end, that’s the true horror of 47 Meters Down. The script is so light on development that the venture feels like a waste of time in a world of films like The Shallows. Even sitting at the bottom of the ocean whilst consumed by darkness and running dangerously low on oxygen, Moore and Holt still find time to discuss Stuart. It’s script details (or lack there of) like that which had me rooting for the sharks.

Grade: D

What did you all think of 47 Meters Down? Are you looking forward to seeing it during your Fourth of July break? Let us know in the comments down below!

Review: ‘It Comes at Night’ leaves everything to the imagination

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough

Synopsis: Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son, but this will soon be put to test when a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge (IMDb).    

Rating: R

Year: 2017

Writer-Director Trey Edward Shults is a true filmmaker. He knows how to effectively manipulate the technical aspects of the art form in such a way that compels viewers deep inside the minds and lives of his conflicted characters. The young artist proved so with his debut feature Krisha, which was one of the most engrossing dramas of last year.

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Shults now gives us his take on the popular post-apocalyptic subgenre, employing much the same approach. His latest film is slow burning moral tale that’s more interested in exploring the small scale, psychological toll of a deadly virus outbreak and less so the mass repercussions of one.

It Comes at Night takes place deep within the wilderness where Paul (Joel Edgerton) and his small family live an isolated life inside a boarded up home. Their intrinsic existence goes mostly uninterrupted until Will (Christopher Abbott) and his desperate family stumble upon them in search of sanctuary. The encounter leaves both families questioning each other’s intentions as well as their own judgment.

Shults takes unsettling advantage of the mounting paranoia. Slow, lingering shots stack the anticipation while faint, undiscerning sounds coupled with the unrelenting blackness of night keep you questioning what’s really going on just off screen. At times It Comes at Night plays more like a haunted house flick than anything else, but it’s Shults’s way of helping moviegoers access the inner turmoil of his characters. He is keenly aware that it’s our imaginations, not witches or bored teenagers, that conjure the most frightening scenarios.

 

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The strength of the film’s tone is matched by its equally impressive performances. Joel Edgerton is an expressive actor capable of conveying a multitude of complex feelings in a single expression. As Paul he’s simultaneously courageous and fearful, angry and heartbroken. It’s an intricate performance that seems rather simplistic because of how believable it is. Kelvin Harrison Jr. also deserves praise for his convincing portrayal of Travis, Paul’s teenage son, who acutely conveys the inner struggle of an innocent youth coming to grips with the harsh realities of his new nightmare.

Despite the film’s technical achievements and resonate performances, It Comes at Night would have benefited from further developing a couple ideas that it plants earlier on. As it stands, the film is so strong overall that nothing is lost by not following through on some of those thoughts. It’s just unfortunate that Shults didn’t see them through as they could have added to the characters’ psychoses.

It Comes at Night is another enthralling effort from Trey Edward Shults.

Grade: A-

What did you all think of It Comes at Night? Did you dig the psychological thriller aspect? Or would you have preferred a more straight forward horror film? Let us know in the comments below!

The Mummy Ultimate Collection steelbook unboxing

Another reboot of The Mummy hits theaters Friday. This one stars Tom Cruise and is the hopeful kickstart to Universal’s new cinematic monster universe, aka The Dark Universe. Help us celebrate with this video unboxing of the gorgeous Ultimate Collection steelbook from Best Buy!

 

What do y’all think? Let us know in the comments below and tell us if you plan on seeing The Mummy in theaters this weekend! We’d love to hear from you!

Adam Wingard will direct ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’

Adam Wingard is the new King of Monsters. Per The Hollywood Reporter, the filmmaker has officially signed on to spearhead the forthcoming Godzilla vs. Kong for Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment.

If the title is anything to go by, the film promises to pit against one another the two movie monstrosities, paw-on-claw. One from Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla and the other from this year’s Kong: Skull Island (catch our review here).

Wingard himself is a busy guy. So far he’s established a cult fandom with B-list horror flicks like You’re Next and The Guest (starring Dan Stevens). He’s also been recognized for his standout entries in the two anthology horror series V/H/S and The ABC’s of Death. The filmmaker’s last directorial effort came in the form of last year’s surprise sequel Blair Witch and he’s currently wrapping up an American-ized Death Note film for Netflix.

Godzilla vs. Kong will start tearing up theaters May 22, 2020. If you can’t wait that long to sink your teeth back into this shared monster-verse, don’t fret. Godzilla: King of Monsters, a sequel to the 2014 film, is slated for release on March 22, 2019.

So what do you think of this news? Does Wingard’s involvement make you more or less excited for this film? Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts and let us know!