“Annabelle Comes Home” horror movie review

“Miss me?” Adventures in Babysitting meets The Conjuring Universe. Well it’s not bad, but not as strong as Creation. Still, it’s better than the first one. Annabelle Comes Home hit theatres Tuesday, June 25th with a new story to further develop the WarrenVerse. Inspired by the documented paranormal investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the third installment in the Annabelle franchise follows on the heels of the first Annabelle. From the very first shot to the last, this installment delivers a highly atmospheric horror movie that is not built upon jump-scare after jump-scare, but instead focusses on suspenseful windups. Unfortunately, therein lacks a substantive delivery following the engaging windup. Central to the movie is a small cast of three leading characters, so there was such a fantastic opportunity to develop these characters; regrettably, even within this intimate setting with a small group, the characters mostly fall flat. The movie has a strong first act, and transitions into the second act very well; however, we spend most of our time in that second act going in circles until the anticlimactic showdown. Because of the terrifying atmosphere created in the film, there is an excellent haunted house feel to it that I liked a lot. I generally prefer atmosphere to jump scares, although both are important and should be included in the right amounts. Ultimately, the movie fails to provide a compelling story but makes for a mostly fun horror movie.

Following the bizarre events and exorcism at the nursing students’ apartment, Ed and Lorraine Warren place Annabelle in the backseat of their car to take to their cursed artifact room at their house. To protect the world from the evil conduit Annabelle, they place her on a chair in a glass case made from glass from Trinity Church. On the eve of the Warren’s daughter Judy’s birthday, Ed and Lorraine leave for an overnight trip and leave their daughter under the care of a babysitter. While Judy and her babysitter are baking a cake, the babysitter’s friend shows up and offers to watch the cake and house while Judy uses her new rollerskates. When in the house alone, she breaks the house rule and enters the Warren’s occult museum. In this room, she unleashes an evil that will stop at nothing until it claims a soul.

Although this installment in the Annabelle franchise is better than the first one, the story is weak compared to the second one, which met with both highly positive audience and critic reviews. Like with so many horror movies, this one also suffers from an underdeveloped plot and flat characters. The plot is so underdeveloped that there is ostensibly no plot at all. It’s as if the screenwriters (James Wan and Gary Dauberman) took the premise and wrote five principle characters for it, but then forgot that the screenplay should (1) follow the three-act structure (2) include characters with well-defined external goals and internal needs and (3) start each scene as close to the end of the scene as possible. While most of the characters lack any kind of real emotional development, the character of Daniella is the only one that goes on any kind of emotional journey that allows her to grow as a result of the conflict with Annabelle. Leading and chief supporting characters in a screenplay need to have an external/measurable goal motivated by an internal need. The external goal is aligned with the action plot and the internal need is aligned with the subplot. But when your story seems to be plotting along aimlessly, therein lies a problem because it’s difficult to support character goals when there is no real end in sight. Once we are in the second act, the story just moves in circles until the anticlimactic, forced showdown lacking in any true realization.

What this movie lacks in story, it makes up for in atmosphere, production design, and non-repetitive scares. There is a sense of foreboding from the moment that the movie begins, and continues throughout. Essentially, it becomes a haunted house movie complete with all the lighting, music, and entrapment. Even before I thought much about the story and characters, when the credits began to roll, my first thought was “this would make for a great HHN house.” The atmosphere of terror is achieves though lowkey lighting, harsh shadows, the cinematography, and haunting score. The movie is not overstuffed with scares, and when there are jump scares, they are never repeated. It also helps that we only have three main characters that are all trapped in this haunted house and act as our conduit through which we also experience the evil entity in the house. If you wanna feel transported to a haunted house, then this movie does an excellent job of making you feel like you are right there with the characters. In the past, we have spent some time in the Warren’s house, but this is the first time that we spend nearly the entire movie in their literal house of horrors. The manner in which the camera movies and the music rises and falls assists in the creation of suspense, and the movie will hold you in suspense nearly the whole time. Unfortunately, the problem is that the payoff after the windup is lackluster at best. Great suspense, pool payoff. When crafting suspense in plot or with the camera, remember that the payoff should equal the windup.

If you are a horror fan, then I definitely recommend watching it in the cinema; but for general audiences, it’s one that can be enjoyed just as well at home when it hits Amazon Prime or other streaming services.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“The Nun” Horror Movie Review

Well, it’s not the worst horror movie ever. Universes are popping up everywhere, and why should The Conjuring not follow in suit? Based on the real-life paranormal work of Ed and Lorraine Warren, there is certainly enough material from which to build a universe; but if this is a universe and the movies are planets, then perhaps The Nun will go by way of Pluto. Sometimes it’s included, sometimes it’s not. One may even go so far as to say that The Nun is truly unholy–an unholy hot mess of a movie. That’s not to say that it isn’t fun to watch. Like with horror movies, in general, it is a fun watch with a large group of people all reacting at the same time. While recent horror films focus on creating an atmosphere of dread and developing characters that the audience cares about, and then crafting twisted moments of terror such as A Quiet Place or Hereditary, this movie follows bad horror movie tropes that may aid in getting you to jump here and there, but ultimately fail at delivering anything truly scary or horrific. With German expressionism being at the very roots of the American horror film, as seen in NosferatuPhantom of the Opera, and DraculaThe Nun seems like such a missed opportunity to produce a terrifying gothic horror movie.

When a nun at a cloistered abby in the hills of Romania is discovered as having committed suicide by hanging, the Vatican calls upon the service of Father Burke (Birchir) to investigate the occurrence to determine if there is any unholy work at play. Under the advisement of the Vatican, Father Burke is asked to work with Irene, a young nun from a Catholic school because she has the gift of visions that may aid in their mission. Although Irene has yet to take her final vows, she agrees to accompany Father Burke to Romania to uncover why one of her sisters would commit suicide. Father Burke and Sister Irene soon discover that a most unholy spirit lives within the castle, and that the abby’s convent of nuns were protecting the world against a malevolent demon who must be sent back to the depths of hell.

Like many of you, I too was initially optimistic for this origin story as the glimpses of The Nun in the Conjuring movies are terrifying. Partly, these glimpses are creepy because we see very little of the nun. The demon nun suffers from some of the same problems that are witnessed in the Insidious movies. When the demon was shadowed, barely visible–but just enough to frighten you–he was scary; but then he turns into Darth Maul and loses that level of fright he had through most of the first movie. Simply stated, we saw too much of him. To the point that he almost became a parody of his former self. Likewise, the nun’s exaggerated features, yellow eyes, and jagged teeth quickly transition from scary to almost funny. Funny in that it felt campy or over the top. Director Corin Hardy obviously does not know the power of subtlety. Diegetically, the plot of The Nun plays out as incredibly predictable. The nun or another ghoulish apparition appears right when and where you expect it to happen. No surprises here. In an era that arthouse horror is attracting mainstream audiences–and making bank at the box office–it’s quite upsetting that a movie that had the setting and characters for arthouse horror decided to go the “paint by the numbers” route instead of joining other trailblazers.

A grossly underused setting. The movie begins in candle-lit hallways in a medieval castle in the foggy hills of Romania. Visually, the movie appeared to be setting up a story and setting that would have that beautifully dark gothic feel and look; however, it quickly turns into another generic haunted house movie. We begin with an incredibly effective foreboding atmosphere complete with everything you want to see in a gothic horror film, then scrap it for unimaginative rooms and cheap exploitation. Gothic horror films possessed an ability to depict terrifying stories with minimal dialogue. Dialogue was an extension of the plot; it did not force the plot. The Nun had all the right elements for a frightening horror film but failed to deliver the Conjuring universe movie we wanted or expected. It’s like, you can buy all the ingredients to make an exquisitely delicious dish you had at a French restaurant; but if you do not know or choose to ignore the proper amounts and order of the ingredients, then your dish will most likely fail to meet your expectations. Moreover, there were many moments that felt gimmicky, felt forced.

With such an amazing setting, the german expressionistic and gothic roots should have ben channeled more effectively. Whether you are familiar with the term or not, you are likely familiar with what it looks like–especially if you are a horror junkie like myself. The antithesis of French impressionism (art displaying authentic life), German expressionism sought to reflect real life but through metaphor, allegory, and symbolism. An indirect representation of observations of real-life. Expressionism allows the filmmaker to visually explore themes such as death, life, sex, institutions, religion, and more. The beauty is its ability to provide social commentary without being overt. Examples of German expressionism can be found in older films such as Nosferatu and The Cabinet, Dr. Caligari, mid-century films like Psycho and The Exorcist, but also found in newer films such as Batman Returns and Crimson Peak. Mostly associated with film noir, german expressionism is foundational to the looks and feel of horror films as well. Visually, German expressionism is characterized by exaggerated architecture, shadows, twisted landscapes, and sharp edges. The very look of it is creepy. German expressionism takes many visual queues from gothic architecture. It’s that gothic looks and feel that was mostly ignored in the setting and actions of The Nun even though it was a perfect candidate for it.

This movie will undoubtedly do well at the box office over the next couple of weekends as even “ehh” horror is bankable. Before I allow myself to get too discouraged, I look to how the sequel to Annabelle was fantastic after the first installment was a let down. If Annabelle Creation can improve upon its predecessor, then the forthcoming Nun sequel can do the same thing under the right direction with the right screenplay.

“The Conjuring 2” movie review

Conjuring2Outstanding horror film! Director James Wan has once again provided audiences with a brilliant work of the macabre and supernatural. From the writing to the directing to the acting and cinematography, Conjuring 2 is on par with, if not better than the first. Sometimes the best stories are true ones. And, although elements of the story have to be fictionalized in order to construct a cinematic narrative, grounding the Conjuring movies in the real work of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) infuses a dynamic emotional response that directly impacts the increased frightening nature of these films. One of the observations that I appreciate most about, not only this but the predecessor, is not relying upon the jump-scare to curdle the blood. Are jump scares part of the movie? Well, of course! What fun would a horror film be without the entire theatre gasping for breath, jumping, or screaming together??? But Wan goes beyond the jump scare and channels his inner Hitchcock to build suspense and intrigue. The horror film is best appreciated in a group setting. It is a genre that specifically engages the audience on a visceral level. Wan is truly a master at his craft; and I love witnessing how he continues to prove his ability to develop creative horror films.

Ed and Lorraine Warren are back; and have been called upon, by the Catholic church, to investigate the, what’s been dubbed as the “Amityville” of London. Following a self-imposed sabbatical after the investigation of the infamous Amityville haunting on Long Island, Ed and Lorraine fly to London’s Enfield neighborhood to evaluate a reported haunting and possession. Struggling single mother of four Peggy Hodgson hopes that Ed and Lorraine will be able to drive the evil out of her home, and more specifically her youngest daughter Judy. In an effort to discover the truth behind the well-documented alleged demonic haunting and possession, Ed and Lorraine find that they have also become a target. Facing their most challenging case, Ed and Lorraine are determined to help the Hodgson family and drive the evil from the house.

Following the increasing trend for a film, including but not limited to horror, to begin with an elaborate prologue, Conjuring 2 starts with a fantastic moving shot of the famous eyelet windows of the 112 Ocean Avenue house in Amityville. Often filmed from the outside, this shot sequence takes place inside the attic. A much more intimate feel, this was an excellent choice for establishing the case that launched Ed and Lorraine Warren into the public eye. There have been numerous movies and documentaries based on the arguably most infamous haunting in the United States, so it was not necessary for Wan to spend too much time on it. It is, however, a very important scene because the plot/case of Conjuring 2 is directly related to the experience that the Warrens went through during the Lutz investigation. Beyond the establishing a connection between the Amityville and Enfield cases, beginning with the Warrens in the middle of the 112 Ocean Avenue investigation allows for Wan to visually show how and why the Warrens would seek a self-imposed sabbatical from supernatural and demonic investigations. Moreover, this sequence of events that provides copious amounts of plot development material are also instrumental in significant contributions to character development. Although this prologue lasts less than ten minutes, it contains prolific information vital to the plot of Conjuring 2.

It should not be of surprise that Wan uses the camera very strategically to tell this visually driven story. From the rule of thirds to lighting to creative use of angles and movement, the camera is instrumental in setting the macabre mood of the film. One of the visual storytelling elements that Hitchcock was most known for, especially in Psycho, is using the camera’s placement and angle to foreshadow something or someone. Wan takes a page from the Hitchcock handbook and utilizes the camera movement in such a way that you are predisposed to feeling certain that something or someone is about to appear or emerge from the shadows but your game is thrown off when that doesn’t happen–but then totally happens when you least expect it! Throughout the diegesis, you will encounter moment when the characters are faced with inner demons that parallel or symbolize the actual evil entities in the film. Having this subplot concurrent to the foreground aids in creating and maintaining an emotional connection to the characters. Shocking the audience both emotionally and physically. By eliciting dynamic and comprehensive responses to the horror on screen, the film becomes an immersive experience–that is the brilliance behind this dark and sinister tale.

Beyond the exceptional direction by Wan, part of what makes the Conjuring franchise so successful is the exquisite casting. Patrick Wilson (Insidious) and Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel) are perfectly cast in these films. From what I have read about the real Ed and Lorraine Warren, Wilson and Farmiga respectively stay true to the real-life people they are portraying while adding in the necessary acting skills necessary to increase the impact and believability of the film. The quality of the acting that Wilson and Farmiga bring to the film is outstanding. Sometimes, a horror film can have an compelling plot but the actors are so uninteresting that it prohibits the story from making the impression that it should. Wilson and Farming make the characters of Ed and Lorraine Warren interesting to watch and add a performance quality to the film that keeps your attention the whole time. The degree to which they add a sincere care for the victims of hauntings to their respective characters is refreshing and will stay with yowling after the movie closes. As the Warrens are reoccurring characters in the Conjuring franchise, it is vitally important that they are as interesting to watch as the plot itself since their cases are the inspiration for the whole franchise, at least put to this point.

If there is one negative element in the film, it is the weak showdown. Not weak in that it was anticlimactic or uninteresting, but that it felt a little rushed. At 2hrs and 15mins, the film is longer than the average horror film, so it was not necessary to rush the climax of the film. It certainly does not mitigate the experience of the movie, but I feel that it could have been a little more intense. That being said, if you are looking for an excellent movie to kickoff your weekend, then this one is it! At last check, it out-performed both Now You See Me 2 (which should’ve been entitled Now You Don’t) and Warcraft. Even if you have not seen the first Conjuring, you will still enjoy this installment. However, seeing the first one will help you to better understand the Warrens and their unconventional line of work. Can’t wait to see where James Wan and the Warrens take us next!

Insidious 3 (movie review)

Insidious3Ridiculous: Chapter 3. The final chapter in the Insidious trilogy takes us all the way back to the beginning. Only, you will find that the beginning is far less terrifying and interesting than the previous films in this story. The one saving grace the film has is the pretty interesting backstory to Elise (Lin Shaye) and her small team of paranormal hunters. We also get a couple references to the Josh Lambert case from the previous movies, and we learn a little more about the bride dressed in black that brought Elise to the Lamberts in the first place. Compared to the the original and, to a lesser extent, the sequel, the third movie is much less developed diegetically (narratively) and contains poor dialog. I have a feeling most of the fans of the series will be disappointed by this installment. It is very apparent that James Wan did not have much to do with the final chapter in the series he created. For what it’s worth, the movie does have its moments of terror and cliche jump scares. As with many horror films, it’s still a fun one to watch with friends or on a date…most likely you’ll be able to put your arm around your movie date. So, there’s the silver lining.

Insidious Chapter 3 is the final movie in the Insidious trilogy. Follow Elise (Shaye) all the way back the beginning to a case involving a young lady named Quinn (Stafanie Scott) who recently lost her mother. Upon trying to contact her mother, Quinn feels she may have awaken something far more insidious (yeah, I went there, haha). Arriving without notice on the doorstep of Elise’s house, Quinn seeks her assistant in contacting her mother. Unlike the Elise from the previous movies, this one is scared to step back into the supernatural world and tells Quinn she cannot help her to the extent Quinn wants. Following continued terrifying events and malevolent appearances of evil entities, Quinn’s father (Dermont Mulroney) reluctantly contacts web-famous paranormal hunters (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson). Realizing that the entity that haunts Quinn is way beyond their expertise, all seems lost. But, Elise confidently arrives to save the day. Now, Elise must go into the further to conquer the evil that so desperately wants to claim the life of Quinn; but not only will she face the demon that wants Quinn, Elise must also confront her fears as well.

While my hopes for this film weren’t terribly high, I was definitely hoping for something better than what I saw. Although the sequel to Insidious was strong for a horror sequel, neither the second nor–definitely–the third are on par with the original. I know, I know, that is not uncommon in the horror genre, but there was such an opportunity to truly develop the events leading up to the Lambert case from parts 1 and 2. Now, we do get some character and subplot development in regards to the character of Elise, but that’s about it. The paranormal case of Quinn is not nearly as terrifying as the Lambert case and is not nearly as well executed. Often writing suffers in cliche horror films–such as this one–but the writing for most of the dialog was so incredibly poor that is was nearly laughable. Once the movie was over, it was as if everyone in the audience asked themselves “is that it?” And–spoiler alert–we get an almost comedic glimpse of the “Darth Maul” demon from the first movie.

Some of the few positive notes regarding the movie is the fact we do get to learn more about Elise’s character and her ragtag team of paranormal hunters. So, that was pretty cool and somewhat interesting. Although not directly explained, there is evidence to suggest why the bride dressed in black hates Elise so much, and kills her in the first movie. Unlike the first two movies, there is very little emotional investment or attachment to any of the characters with the exception of Elsie. Even in the first movie, her character is often considered the favorite in the films. That is most likely do to her good looks–for an older actress, confidence, compassion, and courage. And, in this movie, she has a great single line that prompts everyone to clap and cheer. You’ll just have to watch it to find out. Despite the terrifying nature of the movie, there are come minor comedic relief parts–ones that were intentional.

For me, the best part of watching this movie was the sneak peek into Jurassic World during the previews. So, if you are a fan of the Jurassic Park series, you may want to see Insidious 3 just for the exclusive look into next week’s box office smash hit! For fans of horror movies, you will probably enjoy this film even though it simply did not live up to the low bar of expectations.

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