“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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“Poltergeist” (1982) Retrospective Film Review

“They’re [still] here!” 35 years later, Stephen Spielberg and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist still terrifies audiences today. Coming off the successes of Spielberg’s Jaws & Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this powerhouse producer-director team (note: Hooper received the official director credit) crafted a horror film that became an instant classic then, and still holds up today. With Spielberg heading up the story and Hooper in the director’s chair, both cinematic geniuses combined their talent for generating material for nightmares to take the “haunted” house film sub-genre of horror to the next level. Storytelling and cinematic elements aside, another primary reason the film still haunts and intrigues audiences today is the lore of a lengendary curse attached to this film. For audiences back in 1982, and possibly still to this day, following watching the film, friends may have found themselves only venturing by an alleged haunted house on a dare. The film’s impressive ability to take the haunted house concept up to a level never seen before–in fact–it essentially created the modern haunted house genre seen in today’s horror films. In short, Poltergeist is an icon, and stands alongside films such as PsychoThe Exorcist, and The Shining. Probably the most terrifying element of all is the setting–mundane upper middle class America suburbia. No longer where “haunted” houses confided to old mansions or hotels, but could be located next door to you. That is, if your neighborhood is also built upon a burial ground.

At the end of the day, regardless of who actually directed this film, Poltergeist remains one of the strongest films in either Spielberg’s or Hooper’s canon. And the legend of a curse certainly doesn’t hurt the strong fanbase of this horror classic. Curse and directorial authorship aside (though, the latter is a valid topic for discussion), the brilliance of this film is almost self-reflexive in that it displays quite the dichotomy while commenting on the secularized versions of heaven and hell as seen in the film due to both having their due screen time. This bifurcation paves the way to read past the ghostly apparitions and (real) skeletons, to the root of what I feel Spielberg and Hooper were foreshadowing as the real threat to a traditional familial bond–that box in your living room with moving images flickering on the screen. The way the movie opens and closes are very much book ends to one another as it attempts to deal with the quandary of an inability to “choose between life and death, when [we’re] dealing with what is in between.” The foreshadow of the seemingly one-sided conversation between Carol Ann (the late Heather O’Rourke) is a great depiction of how families are today. The kids are entertaining themselves by and form connections with characters seen on the TV while mom and dad are in their own world getting lit. That is not unlike what is seen today. Now, keep in mind, televisions are not responsible for fracturing the nuclear family; but the television is often relied upon as a babysitter and becomes the object that receives the most attention to the point that some get sucked into the moving picture world. Perhaps there is a lesson here in that the television should not be the center of attention in a household.

Poltergeist has much in common with a roller coaster at a theme park, and that metaphor can can aid in explaining why a film with such a simple plot and one-dimensional characters was and still is so incredibly successful in terms of cultural references and the fan base today. Why do most people go see a horror film? Is it the complex plots and multi-dimensional characters with brilliant on screen chemistry and excellent development? Not particularly, as great as those things are AND are often found in the best horror films. The pacing of this film reminds me of the pacing of a roller coaster at a theme park because of the lift at the beginning, the plummet into danger, the feeling that it’s almost over, followed by one final plunge into the twists and turns before pulling into the station. Compared to films such as The ConjuringAmerican Psycho, and Nightmare on Elm Street (not to mention many others), the plot is somewhat nonsense; however, the film is–without argument–sensationally effective, terrifying, memorable, and the horror imagery is beautiful–filled with metaphor and familial commentary. It’s an impressive array of haunting visual effects juxtaposed against a typical American family living in the suburbs. That, and ever since this movie, static on a TV is frightening! If you can find it anywhere anymore. With all channels on 24hr programming now, I suppose that the ghosts have to find another way into our world.

The innocence of the characters is also an intriguing and atypical part of this movie that aids in the frightening imagery and nightmarish inducing apparitions. It’s atypical because the victims of death, haunting, or injury in a horror film are usually horny teenagers who are sexually promiscuous, adults who have skeletons in the closet, played God, broken the law, or just plain old sociopaths. Not true with this family. Everyone in the Freeling household are wholesome family members from the hardworking father who wants the best for his family to stay-at-home mom who loves her kids, and even the siblings who appear to get along just fine. Almost too picturesque, and ultimately a bit unrealistic. Despite the tight, healthy nuclear family, the Freelings are thrown into chaos when Carol Ann gets sucked into the world that exists between life and death behind a thin veil. That innocence helps to uncross the level of terror in the movie because it hits members of the audience that no one is safe from the reigns of evil. The fact that everything in the film happened to a normal family creates added anxiety in the minds of the audience as many go home to a similar world first depicted in the movie. Looking back, Middle American must’ve been completely shocked when a family, not unlike its own, was plunged into a world of hellish gateways, ghosts, and ghouls and other circumstances out of its control.

There is something for everyone in this film. Because it is likely that most in the audiences then and now are afraid of something in the film: unexplained physics-defying phenomena, clowns, the underside of the bed, ghosts, closets, scary trees, pools, or subdivisions. Perhaps the relatability to the characters or the scary elements of the film are what help to connect new audiences to this classic horror film. There is a wittiness about the film that reminds me of something that Alfred Hitchcock may have developed for the screen had he ventured into paranormal movies. As nightmares go, Poltergeist is thoroughly enjoyable because you know your an always wake up from it and none of the characters are permanently damages at the end of the film. Eerie, beautiful, gruesome. That’s why this film still holds up today and will continue to haunt audiences for many years to come.