Tag Archives: The Conjuring

Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Wow, it’s been a long time since my last movie review, and it’s not because I haven’t been going to the cinema. I’ve just been busy with work and, well, lazy.

Anyway, I’ve got a massive backlog now so I a bunch of reviews should be forthcoming. I’ve decided to start off with the films that have left the deepest impression on me as of late, and for some, it will be no surprise that I’m kicking things off with Annabelle: Creation, the prequel to the lacklustre 2014 doll horror Annabelle, which was itself a prequel/spin-off to The Conjuring.

I have to admit, I didn’t have high expectations going in. Commercial horror films are mostly bad these days with a few notable exceptions, and it is rare for a sequel to be better than its predecessor, especially in this genre. However, there was cause for optimism given that it’s directed by Lights Out filmmaker David F. Sandberg (I actually still have to review it!), and producer James Wan clearly still had enough confidence in the franchise to give the creepy doll another shot.

Set in 1943, Annabelle: Creation goes back to how the eponymous doll was created in the first place. Aussie Anthony LaPaglia plays a doll maker living in some rural place in America, while fellow Aussie Miranda Otto plays his wife. Years following a tragic accident, a bunch of orphaned girls (led by Ouija: Origin of Evil‘s Lulu Wilson and Talitha Bateman) and a nun (Stephanie Sigman) move into their house. And so the horror begins.

I’m not gonna lie: Annabelle: Creation scared the crap out of me. It’s actually quite a typical horror movie with the usual set-ups and jump scares, but as they say, it’s all in the execution. David S. Sandberg has proven himself to be a real talent in his sophomore effort, employing his full bag of tricks to deliver relentless scare after scare. There’s gore, but not too much, and there are horrific images and loud, thumping sounds and blaring music, but often the real terror comes from his use of silence and darkness — it’s what you can’t see that creates the tense atmosphere and sense of dread. I’m also glad that the film doesn’t show too much and it doesn’t show things too early. Sandberg deserves a lot of credit for his restraint and knowing just how to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

It’s not one of those horror movies that creeps into your core and keeps you up at night thinking about it like say The Exorcist. It also doesn’t have much depth or originality like say It Follows or Don’t Breathe. The performances are fantastic, with Lulu Wilson really standing out, though some of the lines they’re given don’t sound like they should be spoken by children their age. My biggest problem with it is that the script is quite poor and there are loads of problematic things in it that make very little sense — almost to the extent that it takes you out of the movie.

But as a popcorn horror flick, Annabelle: Creation definitely delivers. It doesn’t slow down once it gets going, and you could argue that it gets going right from the opening scene. I felt like it was one scare after another and I had no time to catch my breath throughout pretty much the entire 109-minute running time. Even though a lot of the set-ups were obvious and I knew I was just being manipulated into the next scare, I still had plenty of fun going along with the ride.

In all honesty, Annabelle: Creation is not a great movie and has too many flaws to count. But I watch horror movies to be scared, and pound for pound, scare for scare, it could very well be the most terrifying movie I’ll see this year.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Annabelle (2014)

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In an era of crappy, derivative horror films, last year’s The Conjuring was a rare gem in the rough. Most people knew what they were in for — they just didn’t realize how effective it would be thanks to director James Wan’s big bag of tricks.

And so I was excited when I heard that they were going to make a prequel called Annabelle, named after the creepy doll seen briefly in The Conjuring. Haunted toys have been subjected to multiple film interpretations, and I was cautiously optimistic that the same crew from the conjuring would be able to deliver again.I was wrong.

Annabelle was nowhere  near as scary as the conjuring, nor was it anywhere close to being as well made. Instead of the definitive scary doll movie I had been hoping for, Annabelle ended up being yet another disappointment.

The film begins with a brief scene from the conjuring for taking us back to the 1970s, where we meet our lovely protagonists, pregnant young couple Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John Form (Ward Horton). For some inexplicable reason, John decides to get Mia the Annabelle doll to go along with her creepy doll collection (I mean seriously, have you seen the bloody thing?), and soon after that, a deranged woman from a Satanic cult decides to pass her soul into the doll shortly before her death. If you think that sounds familiar, it’s because the exact same scenario happens in Child’s Play, the original Chucky classic.

From there, the progression is fairly predictable — we start off with little things which then escalate, prompting the couple to seek outside counsel, eventually leading to a climatic finish. If you’ve seen it once you’ve seen them all.

None of the predictability would have mattered if Annabelle was genuinely frightening. I admit, expectations were probably unreasonably high after I saw the trailer, which scared the crap out of me. Sadly, the trailer pretty much spoiled all the truly scary parts of the film, and what was left over turned out to be a bore. Despite a running time of just 98 minutes, Annabelle felt surprisingly slow. Unlike The Conjuring, which gave us a fine blend of atmosphere and “boo!” moments, Annabelle was dominated by cheap scares and obvious tactics.

It would be a lie to say the film wasn’t scary at all, but I guess that’s what happens when you follow up one of James Wan’s best efforts with a career cinematographer like John R Leonetti. To be fair, Annabelle does have some stylish scenes and is by far Leonetti’s best film, though this is not difficult feat considering his other directorial credits are Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Buttlerfly Effect 2.

One of the other major problems with Annabelle is the acting. It would be nasty to suggest that the doll was the least wooden performer in the cast, but going from established Conjuring veterans like Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston to the likes to Wallis and Horton is a jarring experience.

Having said all that, Annabelle probably isn’t as bad as I’ve made it out to be. It’s disappointing because of heightened expectations, though compared to the vast majority of other trash out there, the film is actually better than most. It’s a shame there couldn’t have been more creativity with the script and better acting, but if you haven’t seen the trailer there might be just enough scares to justify giving the film a try.

2.5 stars out of 5

PS: For those wondering, Annabelle is even less of a true story than The Conjuring. Check out the real doll. If you’ve done any reading about Ed and Lorraine Warren, the ghostbuster couple from The Conjuring, you’ll know it’s likely a whole bunch of BS. Check out this article for more details.

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Movie Review: The Conjuring (2013)

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Generic title, generic poster, awesome movie

In 1971, the Perron family moved into a big old farm house on Rhode Island. What happened to them there was apparently so terrifying that the world’s most famous “demonologists”, Ed and Lorraine Warren, decided to keep silent about the haunting…until now.

At least that’s the way The Conjuring, directed by Aussie James Wan (Saw, Insidious), has been marketed.

Putting aside whether this so-called true story is a load of crap (and I have my views on this, which I will share after this review), The Conjuring is, hands down, the best haunted house/demonic possession movie I have seen in years. We’ve had a lot of similar films in recent years that have been good but flawed — from the aforementioned Insidious to The Possession to Sinister to Mama to The Haunting in Connecticut (also a Warrens’ case) — though none are as genuinely scary, consistently well-crafted and overall satisfying than The Conjuring.

It’s a testament to the skill of Wan, who has to surely be Australia’s best commercial film director right now (no offense to “all-style, little substance” Baz Luhrmann). He picks up what is a essentially boiler plate concept — a family moves into a new home, strange things start happening, they escalate, and they eventually seek outside help, resulting in a climatic final confrontation — and turns it into an absolute frightfest. You know when the audience gets so frightened and nervous that they have to laugh after scary moments just so they can take the edge off the tension? The Conjuring is one of those movies.

In fact, the first gasp in the screening I attended came from the very first image. And the tension is sustained pretty much all the way through. Wan pulls out just about every trick in his horror director’s bag to keep the audience on the edge of their seat. To be honest, there is nothing particularly original or inventive in what he does — he just does it in a highly effective way, gradually building up the dread, creepiness and suspense and infusing it with the occasional “boo” moment, then milking your anticipation for more. You may scoff at some of the old tricks Wan employs (for example, he took the “doll” a little too far for my liking), but he is so relentless in his attempts to unsettle you that at least some of them have to work.

That said, there are some notable concepts in The Conjuring that set it apart from your average haunted house flick. The first is that the film is centered more on the ghost hunters, the Warrens, than the family being haunted. The screen time is probably roughly equal, but you get the feeling that the story is more about the Warrens (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) than the Perron couple (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five daughters.

The second is that Wan seems to have figured out where to draw the line in deciding what to show audiences and when to show it. Horror movies tend to be scary because of what you don’t see rather than what you do see on screen. It’s that anticipation and the fear of the unknown that gets to us. Usually once the ghost/demon starts appearing and you can see them clearly the fear melts away. It’s a mistake that films such as Sinister and Insidious made, but Wan has cleverly avoided the pitfall this time around. You see just enough, but not too much, and not too soon.

The third is that, unlike most horror movies, The Conjuring has an excellent climax that keeps up the tension and doesn’t dissolve into silliness. Again, there is no new ground being broken here in terms of the plot, but it’s the execution that helps keep the film afloat all the way until the end.

Another point worth noting is that it was refreshing to see a family who isn’t sceptical. One of the most annoying things about haunted house movies is that no one ever believes the poor victims at first. In The Conjuring there is none of that crap. If my daughter tells me some crazy shit and I experience some crazy shit, I’m going straight to the ghostbusters.

If Wan deserves praise for his direction then the actors deserve recognition for their performances. It’s never easy to pull off a haunting victim (or demonologist), though the foursome of Wilson, Farmiga, Livingston and Taylor — all veteran actors — do a commendable job of making us believe in what they are experiencing. Taylor, in particular, is remarkable as the vulnerable mother and the most tormented of the bunch. I should also mention Shannon Kook, who plays the Warrens’ assistant, and John Brotherton, the police officer who serves an important function as the provider of comedic relief. Both of them are positive additions.

If I have any complaints about The Conjuring it’ll have to be the stupidity of the Warrens. For a couple known as the world’s most renowned demonologists (with a whole room of trophies, mind you), they were sure slow in figuring out what the heck was going on. I mean, come on, it wasn’t that hard to see what the demon was planning.

But all things considered, that’s a relatively minor quibble. Simply put, The Conjuring is the scariest, most well-rounded and satisfying “conventional” horror movie to hit the big screen in a very long time. Despite its stereotypical plot, cookie-cutter progression and standard fright tactics, The Conjuring is a visually impressive and surprisingly effective haunted house flick that will be hard to top as the best horror film of the year.

4.25 stars out of 5

PS: OK, so back to Ed and Lorraine Warren. This ghostbusting couple has given us The Amityville Horror, The Haunting in Connecticut and now The Conjuring, so we at least have to thank them for that. But are they the real deal or are they just a couple of convincing fraudsters? After doing some research on The Haunting in Connecticut (and I wrote a lengthy post about it here), my opinion is that they fall somewhere in the middle, but probably leaning closer to the latter.

I just think there are real doubts on whether Lorraine was a real clairvoyant as she professes, and there have been some damning claims about their tendency to sensationalize the hauntings for publicity. You have to be curious why every haunting they attend to ends up having a demon who wants to anally rape someone in the family. My guess is that there was probably something in the Perron house that wasn’t quite human, but after the Warrens got there it suddenly became 10 times worse, and once Hollywood got its hands on the story it became 10 times worse than that. And look, if you’ve been terrified by a ghost, the least you could do is make a buck out of it.