Hell Fest (2018)

SEPTEMBER 19, 2018


It's truly happening! After the success of last year's Happy Death Day, I was hopeful that a slasher revival would be forthcoming, but wasn't sure if the lesson studios would take was "PG-13 slashers can work!" and ruin everything. But both Halloween and Hell Fest are rated R, and while the former has almost no chance of flopping (I heard it's tracking to open higher than most of the other sequels even grossed in their entirety) due to its legacy and seasonal timeliness, if folks show up for an original, straightforward body count flick like this, I think my slasher requirements will be met for the next couple years. And they damn well should show up, because this gets a lot more right than wrong, owing more to Halloween than Scream and doing a damn fine job of capturing the spirit of Halloween Horror Night type attractions.

At any given point during any of the dozen or so times I've been to one of these seasonal attractions (in which a theme park - Six Flags, Universal, etc - is redressed with scary stuff and mazes during September and October), I've wondered if a real life murder could go down right in front of me and my fellow punters without us realizing it wasn't part of the act. Clearly, whichever one of the six credited writers came up with the idea wondered the same thing, and that's more or less what kicks off the main plot in the movie. Our killer is stalking a trio of random girls in the park and crosses paths with our hero group, who encourage him to kill the girl, assuming it's just as fake as the giant furry spiders that scared them moments earlier. He obliges, then sets his sights on them, freaking them out and on occasion permanently separating one from their friends... all while the park is open. Unlike The Funhouse or (ugh) Dark Ride, this doesn't cheap out and come up with some convoluted reason for our heroes to be in the park alone with the killer - they're just trying to enjoy their evening, and he's able to hide in plain sight, having donned the attire of the guys in one of the park's signature mazes (if you've ever been in one, you'd know that each ride's "icon" killer appears several times - I must have seen half a dozen Myers in the Universal Halloween 4 attraction).

Not only does this keep the movie from having to strain more credulity than necessary for a slasher (let's face it, they all kind of have to politely request you look the other way on a few points, especially a modern one with cell phones), but it also gives the film a rarity for slasher films: an abundance of solid jump scares! Short of having the killer pop out every five minutes without actually doing anything, it's hard to give an audience those "Boo!" moments in these things without resorting to fake scares, like people inexplicably creeping up on their friends, or the heroine walking backwards and bumping into something, and of course we can't forget the classic "let's crank the volume of a ringing phone" maneuver. These things are tiresome even on first viewing, and make a film easy to avoid going back to, but an audience used to things like Annabelle: Creation and the Insidii might get restless at something paced like a traditional slasher, where you might go a while without anything particularly scary beyond a POV shot or something.

But not in Hell Fest! Since the rides are operational and the kids aren't aware they are in danger, they are free (and right) to keep going through mazes, where our killer usually follows them, but if not the other characters in the mazes pick up the slack (not to mention props that are triggered to pop out at them), and it helps keep the film "popping" in between the kills. Because, let's face it, if he was offing people left and right from the start, there'd be no way to buy that the bodies weren't discovered, which would in turn close down the park. And even if not, there would have to be a way for our heroes to not get suspicious - it's not like Friday the 13th where they can assume they're in another cabin (and of course, they wouldn't have cell phones to ask). So if you were to look at some sort of chart that marked where the kills fell in the runtime, you might sigh a bit as it would look like the film didn't have a lot of "action", but in reality it keeps things moving by letting our characters do what they came there to do, and let us in the audience have that fun along with them. It's a gamble that pays off, at least for me

And it IS fun to hang out with these kids, because - thank the gods - they're actually likeable and, get this, they don't hate each other! If you read a lot of my stuff you'd know how much I detest the seemingly endless trend of having our protagonists be involved in some sort of cheating scenario, where the heroine either cheated with her boyfriend's best friend, or her boyfriend cheated with HER best friend. The point, for lack of a better word, is to give the characters a reason to split up (and, after they've been killed, an excuse for the other people not to think much of their absence, "they're just blowing off steam, leave them alone for a while"), but the writers here found ways to do that without cliched conflict. One guy splits away from the pack to win his girlfriend a stuffed animal from one of the overpriced carnival games, for example - it's the same end result, but in a way that's endearing instead of obnoxious. Why this seems to be such a hard concept for the folks behind any of the films Hell Fest will inevitably be compared to (including, sadly, the new Halloween, as the main girl's boyfriend pulls a Brady and starts kissing another girl) is beyond me, but I was very happy to almost feel sad when someone got killed - no one here "deserved" it.

As for the kills, they might be spread out but they deliver, with the killer (dubbed The Other) having a thing for head trauma, which legit startled me the first time I saw it in action (and then I laughed at the recollection that people were convinced this would be a PG-13 movie). The Other is also a solid addition to the slasher roster; his costume is "basic" enough that it can conceivably be recreated by a half dozen actors in the park, but not so generic that you'd fail to recognize it should he get to appear in a sequel or get his own action figure someday, so it's got one up on the Prom Night remake if nothing else. As for weaponry, he gets lots of points for resourcefulness - I won't spoil all his implements, but grabbing the ice pick from one of the park's sno-cone stands is pretty inspired.

"Why didn't he bring a weapon?" you ask? Well that's because one of the many details they get right is that these parks often have metal detectors, presumably out of fear that this sort of thing would happen. The production built pretty much everything horror-oriented on the grounds of an existing park that they only had access to for a few weeks, and it's pretty damn impressive considering that - as you might expect from an original R rated slasher movie - they didn't have a lot of money at their disposal. The mazes feel very much in line with what you'd find at your park, such as a demonic school and an old timey carnival populated by scarecrow zombie things, and I had to smile at the moment where, despite their "front of the line" passes, they still had to wait for a bit at one of the bigger attractions, as that happened to us on occasion the other night at Universal. Naturally, for the plot to work they have to take a few liberties, such as the fact that the mazes aren't peppered with staff members trying (failing) to blend into their backgrounds and not break the immersion while ensuring no one's up to shenanigans, and no one else ever seems to be remotely near the kids when they're going through the various attractions, but for the most part you'd probably never doubt this was a legit place.

There are spoilers of a sort in the next paragraph, so skip that one if you don't want to know anything about the killer and his backstory!

Still there? OK, one of the things I loved most is that the killer has no backstory, or even a name. And I know I warned about spoilers but the movie kind of "reveals" that it won't be a whodunit as soon as he shows up in the park, because we've only met our group of six heroes (who arrive at the park about ten minutes into the movie) and they are all still together when he arrives - if it's a whodunit, there are no potential suspects, and we see a sliver of his profile which cancels out the rare characters we meet later, such as Tony Todd in what is really a cameo (and should have been kept as a surprise since his one scene occurs like an hour or so in) and an older, slightly portly security guard who doesn't believe our main girl when she starts suspecting something is up. We are given one tiny bit of information about him in the film's final scene, but otherwise he's still a blank slate. If we get a sequel, they can keep letting him be a mystery, or they can start building up a mythology, but for now they did it exactly the way John Carpenter did in 1978 (and even HE had a name and some kind of backstory), so if you come out of the movie complaining that you don't know "Why", you're a bad slasher fan.

Ultimately, my only real concern with the movie (besides committing the sin of offing two characters at once in a low body count slasher - you gotta spread the wealth, even if it works as a shock) is that the climactic battle is pretty short, one of those deals where you "know" that it ain't over yet and the killer's gonna get back up and have a bigger fight, but no dice. It'd be like if Halloween ended on Laurie stabbing Myers by the couch, without the closet scene upstairs, or if a Scream movie ended with only one killer (hehe). The concept behind a chunk of the finale, involving motion sensor scares that are alerting the killer to their location (and vice versa) and our heroine having to turn the tables and stand silently among some mannequins, is inspired and all works good - it's just over too quickly, as if they were afraid of going over 90 minutes (it's a lean 88, right in the ideal territory for these things) and scrapped a second showdown. Then again, maybe they were worried that inflicting too much damage on the guy would put things into supernatural territory, so perhaps if we get a Hell Fest 2 it will be easier to accept.

Otherwise it's an ideal entry in what I call the "B+ movies", where it's doing exactly what it needs to but doing it well instead of just doing it "more". We spend enough time with the kids to like them (the burgeoning romance between the heroine and her crush is legitimately endearing to watch, and both actors play the awkwardness wonderfully), but not so much that we ever forget what kind of movie this is. The kills are gory without being gratuitous or grim, the killer has got the slow-walking/creepy standing around thing down pat, and the setting is used for nearly its maximum potential (I wouldn't have minded a scene of our guy nonchalantly trailing them, without calling attention to it - perhaps filing through a queue a few groups behind or something?). They even find a way to make good use of cell phones! I admit some of my enthusiasm may stem from being so deprived of solid fare as of late, but let's not forget that the slasher sub-genre thrived when it was just keeping things simple and giving people a good time at the movies. I know everyone's got October 19th circled on their calendar, but are you really gonna wait for the entree when you can have a solid appetizer right now? There's room for both. Indulge!

What say you?


Pet Sematary II (1992)

SEPTEMBER 15, 2018


After I had my kid I vowed to never watch Pet Sematary again until he was too old to be getting hit by cars (if he gets hit by one as an adult it's not something I can blame myself for; it just means he's just a dumbass), but Pet Sematary II was fair game, at least as far as I could recall. I saw the film theatrically in 1992 (and vividly remember having trailers for Dr. Giggles, Candyman, Hellraiser III, and Innocent Blood - none of which I got to see until video, boo) and a couple times on cable after that, but it had been at least 20 years since my last viewing, and couldn't remember much beyond Clancy Brown using a dirt bike tire to splatter a bully's head. I also recalled that it was about a father and son coping with the loss of the mom, but couldn't remember which of them (if either) put her in the titular locale. Needless to say, I definitely couldn't remember if it was any good (seems if I loved it as a kid I would have watched it more than 3-4 total times), so after playing PS4 (Spider-Man, specifically - it's so good!) for a few hours and finding it while scrolling around Amazon Prime, I loaded it up, figuring I'd fall asleep and would finish it the next day on the off chance it seemed worth the revisit.

But it was pretty good! And, much more surprising, I didn't fall asleep! I eventually shut it off around the halfway point because I basically *had* to go to bed by then (it was like 2 am), finishing it the next day. A few things came back, like a bit where Anthony Edwards (as Ed Furlong's dad and the town veterinarian) tells some little girls where to find some free kittens to adopt, only for them to find the little furballs all torn to pieces by Zowie (a wolfdog that takes the Church the Cat role of "pet that comes back evil but teaches us no lesson whatsoever" this time around), but for the most part it was kind of like seeing a movie for the first time, which is always fun. It's kind of the only good thing about aging, really - if I wait long enough I can be re-surprised by a movie I already saw. I totally forgot about the Marjorie character, who is a sort of love interest for Edwards' character, and thus (spoiler for 26 year old movie ahead!) got to be pretty stunned when she got offed in the climax, figuring she'd get to do something motherly to save Furlong and maybe hint at being a stepmom down the road. Nope, she's dead! You can't ever be happy, Anthony Edwards!

Curiously, the plot is somewhat similar to Return to Salem's Lot, which is another sequel to a Stephen King movie based on a (non-sequelized) book. Both of them have a father and son moving to the town where the events of the first film occurred, with the son falling in with the town's deadly secrets and the dad trying to save him before it's too late. And once again there are no returning characters, though I guess that's not too surprising here since pretty much everyone died in the original. The only exception was Ellie, the daughter, and apparently the original idea for this film was to present her as a teenager, but the execs weren't sure anyone would be into a movie about a teenage girl, which is pretty funny if you think about the fact that the tradition of making Stephen King movies began with a movie about a teenage girl. So we get Furlong, because at that point execs were more convinced people would see a movie about him (after the box office failure of this and Brainscan, they realized that no, we would not).

However, they do work in a character that was left out of the first movie: Church's vet, Dr. Jolander. It's funny, because even though I haven't read the book (I tried, when I was like 10 or 11, after seeing the movie - but found it too hard to follow. I'll finish it someday, swear!) there was something about him, from the first second he appears, that made me feel he was a legit King character, unlike all of the others in the film who were created specifically for it. He's even introduced the way one might bring back a fan favorite character for a cameo, so even though it's a bit clunky I like how they at least made a good effort into tying it into the first film and King's world as a whole. The only other real reference to the first film is when the kids bike past the abandoned Creed house, and of course the "Sematary" itself, which looks about the same to my eyes even though the film was shot in Georgia instead of Maine.

Of course, the two films share a director in Mary Lambert, so it makes sense she'd go the extra mile to tie the two films together however she could. And she does a fine job again here; even Furlong is better than usual, and she gets a terrific performance from Clancy Brown, who starts off as a typical Brown character (authoritarian asshole) but after he is killed and revived, he's kind of like a goofy Frankenstein's monster of sorts. There's a great little scene where he's at the dinner table with his stepson and Furlong (the kid's bestie), shoveling food into his mouth and opening wide like a little kid would, making the boys laugh - it almost seems like he came back "good" since he was an asshole to begin with. But before long he starts killing people (he also rapes his wife, who is understandably not in the mood to fool around with an ice cold dude sporting a gaping neck wound), killing that theory, though it is kind of fun to see a human more or less making their way through life again, something the first film never had the chance to do since Gage was in killer mode almost instantly and the movie ended when the mom returned.

The one big blunder is that the "revive the mom" subplot kicks in so late, you wonder if they had a different ending or simply forgot to film some scenes along the way. You've practically forgotten about her by the time she's revived, and I don't know if it's just Furlong's subpar acting or bad writing, but I don't buy him teaming up with Zombie Clancy Brown (who is the one that exhumes the body and seemingly doesn't want to harm him for whatever reason) or seemingly choosing her over his normally living dad. Apparently there's a longer version out there with more gore (a bootleg, not an official release) but I'm curious if there are some character beats that got dropped along the way as well. Just seems like a lot of folks turn on a dime with regards to their actions, as if it WAS based on a book, a much longer one that had the time to pace these arcs more carefully.

Otherwise, the only other issue is that the Ramones song during the credits isn't as good, though there's a solid Dramarama track ("I've Got Spies") and L7's "Shitlist", beating Natural Born Killers by two years. I can only assume it was the general disinterest in horror during that period that kept the movie from being a hit (indeed, of all the films I listed above, it outgrossed all but Candyman), because in its low-key way it really does offer an ideal sequel, retaining the basic idea and keeping a consistent vibe, but offering new ideas and opening up the mythology a bit to plant the seeds for future installments should they come to pass. I don't know if it could have been a long-running franchise like the Children of the Corn films, but come on, even Mangler got two sequels - we shoulda gotten one more trip to Ludlow! Oh well. Maybe if the upcoming adaptation (coming next year, 30 years after the original) is a big hit they can try again. But if not, at least we have this one, which is better than it has any right to be.

What say you?


The Toybox (2018)

SEPTEMBER 12, 2018


Roughly 95% of my unread emails are links to screener versions of various low-budget/indie horror movies; the sort of thing I'd watch all the time back when this site was updated daily. Since "quitting" I'm much more selective, because a lot of these movies are bad and caused me to quit in the first place (or were so anonymous and bland I'd have nothing to say about them), but I keep them lying around for the days I find myself with time to kill. One such example is The Toybox, which I got a few emails about and didn't think much of it, but opted to watch the trailer and saw that the protagonists seemingly lived not too far from me in the deep San Fernando Valley, if the establishing shots were any indication. I mean, I couldn't quite see my house, but I saw the roads I drive on every day, so I was kind of endeared to it and gave it a shot.

Plus, it was about a haunted RV, which could be disastrous but at least offered more options than the usual haunted car (or haunted racist truck, if you're Supernatural), which made their choice of filming location tickle me even more. See, at my previous place, two miles from where I am now (and even closer to the street seen in the film), there was this motel around the corner that always had an RV parked in front of it. For the two years I lived there, I don't think I ever saw that thing move, and while it was kind of an ugly looking thing it was helpful to give directions to people who might have trouble finding our street - "Just look for the RV parked on the street and turn there." Plus I was amused at the idea of it being outside of a motel, as if to taunt them, since an RV provides the same "temporary" accommodations with the added bonus of a CB radio. But the fact that it didn't move kind of unnerved me - what the hell was going on in there?

So when I saw the neighborhood in this haunted RV movie I had to wonder if someone from the creative team (the story is attributed to four men) lived around there and had the same thoughts, and came up with the idea of someone taking the vehicle from the area into the empty desert on a family road trip, only for it to go all Christine on them and pick them off one by one. I've said in the past that the reason you don't see a lot of Thanksgiving-themed horror movies is because that's more of a family holiday and no one wants to see little kids and a kindly grandmother being offed, and this movie just kind of proves my point - it's kind of a grim affair. The family is a man, his two adult sons (the mom recently died), and the wife and daughter of one of those sons. The other son is introduced as and continues to act like an asshole, and then they meet up with two randos (including top-billed Mischa Barton) whose truck broke down, so I'm thinking those three and probably the father die, leaving the other son and his family intact, right? Well, I won't spoil the specifics, but I was wrong.

Thus, it's a darker film than I was expecting, and there's more to it than just the body count. I also figured the source of the RV's haunting would be a standard "an evil guy died in it" kind of thing and they'd find his rotting corpse stuffed under the bunk beds or whatever, but it turns out the RV was where a serial killer would torture/kill his victims (dubbed his "Toybox" - hence the title) and now that he's dead he's just keeping up his MO. We don't see a lot of his murders, just photographs and flashbacks, but again it's grimmer than the likes of The Car or something along those lines, which was a bit of a surprise. I've often wondered why so many of these indie horror films feel rather toothless, given that they aren't required to make $100m, so it's nice to see one that takes advantage of the fact that it doesn't have to appeal to everyone.

It also makes good use of the RV setting. For a while we get smaller examples of its power - the evil force tries to shut a window on someone's hand (after baking them a bit by not letting them open the windows at all), and the engine revs up when being worked on, causing a pretty nasty cut. But then it starts killing them off, running them over when no one's actually driving, or rocking about and sending folks toppling around and getting banged up. Even when it breaks down, the characters never stray far from it (a mix of having no supplies and the force seemingly keeping them there), but the DP and camera team manage to keep it from feeling awkward and cramped, even when more exciting things are occurring (if you've never been in an RV, trust me - it's not exactly spacious). I can't help but think of Michael Bay's meeting on Phone Booth where he asked the producers how they could get him out of the booth; even when they had a good excuse to leave the RV in the distance, they stick around and keep using it, so kudos to them.

The film only really falters with some of the acting, and writing for the scenes after a loved one dies (spoilers ahead, skip paragraph if you're a spoilerphobe!). In a move that was probably dictated by child labor laws more than anything else, the little girl gets killed shockingly early, but the parents seem more annoyed by it than devastated. Later on, another member of the family dies and not only does the person who should be most upset barely even seem annoyed this time around, he also encourages a conversation revealing why his parents split up a decade or so earlier. Is that really important right now? One could chalk it up to shock or something, but the actors in question don't seem to be displaying any of that sort of emotion - it just comes off like people not giving a shit that they just lost their family. It's one thing for a slasher or whatever when people are kind of blase about their friends dying, but here it really kind of sticks out as sloppy. My man should be a blubbering mess by the halfway point but he's coming off like he's just angry that the RV broke down and he's gonna miss an important work meeting.

There's also a strange, largely abandoned subplot of people seeing things that already happened, as if to suggest time travel is in play. One in particular has Barton's character inside the RV, looking out the window and seeing a death that happened not too long ago, banging on the window and such to try to stop it from happening (again?), but there's no real explanation for this or the several occasions where they see themselves on the RV's (supposedly broken) television. Normally I'd assume it was just aimless padding, but the movie runs a little longer than average (95 minutes) so it doesn't seem particularly necessary. It's not a crippling thing, but kind of gives the impression they weren't quite sure how to end the film and were setting things up just in case they needed them.

But it mostly works, and at least feels different than most stuff out there - it doesn't seem to be chasing any particular trend, and as far as I can tell the actors are all actual actors, not social media "stars". And it's also refreshingly tech-free: even when they say that they can't get a signal (as required by Horror Movie Law), we're spared shots of their phones, so five or six years from now it won't inspire any giggles the way folks do whenever they see a flip phone. Nothing essential, but it held my interest, which is more than I can say for most of its brethren, and if it ends up on Netflix or Prime (it's actually opening theatrically in LA tomorrow, with a Blu-ray next week) and you're not in the mood for another James Wan wannabe or teen-driven thing, it should do you just fine. And probably make you feel like a more loving parent.

What say you?

P.S. This is the second movie called The Toybox that I've seen/reviewed for HMAD, and oddly enough, I saw the other one the same week Halloween (2007) came out. Well guess what I'm seeing tonight?


The Nun (2018)



The problem with most horror franchises is that they need to keep finding ways to resurrect their central boogeyman, but The Conjuring "universe" has found an easy way around that by introducing the Warrens' room of haunted trinkets, and mixing their real life cases with some made-up ones so they can continue introducing things briefly in the mainline Conjuring movies that otherwise focus on other cases. It worked out so well for Annabelle that it got its own prequel (which outgrossed the original, so there's probably a third one coming), so they're trying again with The Nun, based on one of the terrors from Conjuring 2, and if box office estimates are correct it will once again be a lucrative endeavor - but I'm not sure audiences will ultimately be as satisfied this time around.

Unlike Annabelle, which was at least derived from an actual (or "actual") haunted Raggedy Ann doll, there's no basis in reality for this particular story - there's a demon named Valac in the old lore, but it has no relation to "Valak" from Conjuring 2, nor did it ever take the form of a nun, far as I know. And neither of the Nun's primary characters - a priest who is sent to perform investigations on behalf of the church, and a nun-in-training who occasionally has visions - are based on real people either. The only exception is kind of a spoiler, so I can't get into that, except to say that a lot of what we see here is also made up but seems to be leading into the plot for the potential sequel, one that would presumably tie it into the main Conjuring films more than the Annabelle films (or this one) ever managed.

So long story short, they had to make up pretty much everything here, but despite that license they didn't quite flesh it out as much as they did for the Annabelles (and when I say "they" it's not a stretch - it's the same screenwriter and producers as those films). Bizarrely, the movie kind of tells us a lot in its opening sequence: there's an old, isolated abbey in Romania that has some sort of evil force contained within it, and the nuns are the gatekeepers, preventing it from getting out to the rest of the world. But it's one of those movies where we know more than the protagonist, so we spend a lot of time watching Taissa Farmiga's character wander around, getting spooked when the internal Horror Movie Scare Clock demands it, until learning that... there's an evil force in the abbey and the nuns are keeping it from getting out. It's almost like the opening scene wasn't supposed to be there, because it's treated as a big reveal later.

Even weirder (spoilers here, skip to next paragraph if you wish) the same opening has a nun kill herself to prevent the demon from having a vessel (i.e. a living body), which any intelligent viewer can understand to mean that there were no other nuns there, because otherwise it'd be a pretty pointless action to take. So when Farmiga and the priest (Demian Bichir as Father Burke, possibly a reference to Exorcist's Burke Dennings?) arrive and talk to a few nuns, my initial thought was "Oh, the nuns are all ghosts", because - again - the nun killed herself to keep the demon from having a vessel. If there were other nuns there she'd just be dooming one of them to get possessed instead, which isn't very Christian of her. But an hour goes by before they tell us that there are no other nuns there, they are indeed ghosts, and that the one who killed herself was the last one. It's clunky, to say the least.

I was also baffled by the fact that they seem to be hiding Farmiga's character's name, which is Irene - I think they only say it once near the beginning of the film and never again. Given her sister's prominence in this franchise, and their similar looks, I thought it was an intentional bit of subterfuge that she was mostly ever addressed as "Sister", and we'd find out she was actually a young Lorraine Warren or at least her sister (heh) or something, but no. So it's just a weird casting choice; nothing against Taissa but of all the actresses in the world, and given the series' habit (heh, again!) of twists, why would they distract us by putting her in the role? The film's setting (1952) is even perfect for this kind of thing, as Taissa is within a year of the age Lorraine would have been then, but while there is a twist at the end (a pretty good one, too) it has nothing to do with her. Alas, this means that her rather thinly drawn character - which I was assuming throughout most of the runtime was intentional to try to hide her identity from us - was just that, and in a movie with only three characters of note, that kind of hurts.

None of those three characters are the titular Nun, by the way. She doesn't really appear all that much, oddly enough; Burke tells of a botched exorcism that haunts him and so he is menaced by a demonic version of the little boy he failed to save, and I swear he appears just as much as the Nun. "The Nuns" would be a more accurate title, since instead of just the main one (played by Bonnie Aarons again) we just get a lot of anonymous ghost nuns without faces, as anyone who has seen the trailer can tell you (where Taissa turns to see one following her, only to be attacked by a second one from her side). This allows for some of the film's most memorable sequences, like when a character has to make his way through them and they all turn in unison and sort of flock in one direction, but at the end of the film I felt I didn't really get more time with the "character" than I did in Conjuring 2. I mean, with Annabelle they couldn't really do all that much with the doll but managed to give it a full presence in the movies - they don't quite manage the same thing here, which is weird when it can, you know, move.

But that sequence, and a few others, make the movie watchable and even fairly fun for the most part, despite the story's shortcomings. There's a fun "buried alive" bit, an attack on a guy in a cemetery (with a fantastic punchline involving a cross), the scenes in the catacombs are all solid, and - even though it's mostly just exposition - the flashback scene explaining how the evil came to be sealed/released in the abbey is pretty great, to the point where I almost wish it was the main part of the story in the first place (but hey, now they can do a prequel to this prequel to the sequel!). And those are just the highlights; I should stress that the movie didn't have any BAD scenes, and I was never really bored - it just didn't quite all gel together in a fully satisfying way. The plot isn't exactly complicated, and as I said we kind of learn some of the information twice, so there isn't a lot of momentum or build-up to the narrative, so your mileage will vary and exclusively depends on how well the scares work for you. It's fun, but not as involving as I may have hoped.

That said, I am happy to report there aren't as many jump scares as there were in Annabelle: Creation. Director Corin Hardy (whose movie The Hallow is highly recommended) shares producer James Wan's love of fog machines and gives the film a sort of Hammer vibe (a scene where one of our protagonists visits a pub seems straight out of Plague of the Zombies or one of those), so there's more of an emphasis on atmosphere than giving the audience a reason to look up from their phones. It's still got plenty of those jolt moments (the best, alas, is the one from the trailer, which by now didn't even cause a titter in my audience), but Hardy doesn't seemingly feel the need to overload the film with them like it's some sort of competition. For the most part, they happen when they should, and while some work better than others, none of them are "fake", which is always a plus in my book.

They have already announced a movie about Crooked Man (also from C2), plus sequels to all existing branches, so this franchise isn't going away any time soon. But I hope the spinoff folks start realizing that a big part of what made us like the Conjurings was the characters and their loving bond, which made us want to go on those journeys with them. We can debate the accountability of the *actual* Warrens all day long, but the slightly fictionalized versions played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are winners, and the three spinoffs have yet to come up with anyone as personable as them. And that's not a slight against any of the actors who have played the heroes in these other movies - it's just a side effect of centering them around the demon baddies. But when they're all prequels, we kind of know that the heroes in these films will have short-lived victories (if any), so I wish they spent more time giving us a reason to want to see them succeed, or at least survive. Otherwise they're just kind of like slasher movies without victims, giving us iconic villains who ultimately don't really do anything memorable.

What say you?


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