“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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A24’s “Hereditary” (2018) horror film review

Arthouse meets mainstream in this outstanding horror film! This terrifyingly good nightmare will haunt you long after you leave the theatre. After all the hype A24’s latest generated out of the Overlook Film Festival, many were wondering if it could live up to the accolades. Suffice it to say, it did all that and more. It’s been characterized by many as The Exorcist for a new generation, and rightly so. In fact, elements of the plot, setting, and characters can be likened to not only The Exorcist, but The Shining and The Witch as well. When you have a film that’s being compared to two of the pioneering films in supernatural horror and a popular modern one, then you know the film is exceptional. Relying chiefly upon an overwhelming sense of dread from the onset and intense emotional agony, Hereditary will assault your mind and eyes with that which cannot be unseen or unfelt. Wrier-director Ari Aster’s thrilling masterpiece will likely join the canon along side other great horror films as it is one that pushes the boundaries of what a horror film can do. Unsettling beyond measure, this is the type of film that leaves a lasting impression upon the minds and eyes of the audience. Furthermore, the danger of describing this film in too much detail can mitigate the phenomenal experience that should be this film. Not for the faint of heart, I suggest taking someone along with you to watch this amazing horror film unless you want to brave the disturbing narrative alone.

Following the death of not so beloved Ellen Leigh, her daughter Annie Graham’s family begins to uncover cryptic secrets of a bizarre and terrifying nature. Annie’s ancestry contains generations of psycho-social disorders that begin to point to a sinister family heritage. When a tragic death befalls the Graham family, the beautiful mountain home turns into a house of nightmares. The deeper Annie goes into the grim history of her family, the more she unravels a sinister secret that will test the limits of human psychology and just how far one will go to protect loved ones while remaining sane. When the search for answers peals back the vein between the physical and supernatural worlds, Annie learns that her family’s inherited an insidious fate of the darkest of natures.

Hereditary delivers a new kind of horror, or should I say a classical approach to the post-modern horror experience. Classical in the sense that it relies upon the auteurist craft of visual storytelling, complex characters, and an overwhelming sense of dread brought on my the score and cinematography to assault your mind, ears, and eyes instead of simply terrifying the eyes. Instead of including cheap jump scares, prolific gore, blood soaked murders, or terrifying images, Hereditary transfers the horror from the screen into the minds of the audience. When a horror film gets into the mind of the audience, that is truly where the horror lies. What isn’t said, heard, or seen is far more powerful than what can be seen with the naked eye. Clearly the suspenseful nature of the film is taken out of the Hitchcock playbook while the horror craft is inspired by the Kubrick (The Shining) and Friedkin (The Exorcist) approaches. Audience are kept on edge and pleasurably uncomfortable  (Carol Clover’s pleasurable unpleasure theory) by sequences of events that cannot be completely discerned as being real or figments of the Graham family imagination, given the heritage of mental illness. You will be terrified by, not only the uncanny events and sinister secrets of the film, but the dark family psychodrama with characters suffering from internal torment.

Toni Collette’s captivating, terrifying performance as Annie Graham is one that screams Oscar contender. We will be hard-pressed to encounter another more compelling and gritty performance the rest of the year. Although horror has always been popular and bankable, it has largely been passed over by The Academy until recent years with major wins by Get OutThe Shape of Water, and even Ex Machina’s visual effects. The genre that can trace its cinematic roots back to the dawn of indie and commercial motion pictures is finally being embraced at the Academy and Golden Globe awards. There are no shortage of reasons why critics and fans are praising everything about Hereditary. What’s there not to like??? There is little doubt that Collette’s portrayal of a tortured daughter and reluctant mother will be the most most exceptional performances of a female actor this year. Whether talking horror or other genres, the role of Annie Graham will go down in the record books as one of the most gut-wrenching characters of contemporary cinema. Her command performance is spellbinding as you get forcibly sucked into this twisted world of a family-heirloom evil that is showered by outstanding remarks by critics and fans across the spectrum. With landmark wins for the horror genre for actor, actress, picture, and more, it’s entirely possible that we got a look at one of the films that will earn many nominations and even some wins at the next award season.

It’s important to note that this isn’t simply a “scary movie.” Scary horror is simple to achieve; sheer terror, nightmare-inducing horror is difficult to create. The former is mostly concerned with the moment; include a jump scare, some violent gore, or a creepy figure. Whereas with the latter, the writer/director is pre-occupied with creating a simple plot, complex characters, and an atmosphere filled with dread to successfully carry the film from beginning to end. Hereditary is frightening on every level. To Hereditary’s credit, it delivers what audiences want plus subverting the expectations of the genre to generate true primal fear in the experience of this horror masterpiece. It’s far too easy for for a writer/director of a horror film to give audiences what they want to see. The danger in that approach is delivering a film that only has temporary value. Like getting a sugar-rush for energy versus proper nutrition. The effects of the “scare” provide nothing after the shallow energy has been used. Shallow versus depth. On the opposite end of the spectrum. a horror film that is too deep often fails to deliver what general audiences want to see and only cinephiles, like yours truly, find appreciation in the story. Hereditary contains the kind of masterfully crafted visceral imagery, emotional agony, and psychological trauma that creates a powerful, penetrating horrific experience that will give this film an evergreen life.

Not for the timid, this film will test the limits of your imagination and ability to sleep without fear of nightmares. Brilliantly frightening, this motion picture harnesses the power of how to effectively impact the mind and body of the audience. From moments of sheer terror to tormented souls caught in a dark family psychodrama, throw in a healthy dose of ominous evil and you have a don’t-miss cinematic experience. Exceptional characters, plot, a nightmarish score and more, give this film reachability and material to discuss in future film studies classes.

“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!