Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Mirando Otto, Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson
Directed by David Sandberg
Creepy dolls are pretty much guaranteed to scare, if not scar – Annabelle: Creation producer James Wan has said the clown doll in the original Poltergeist movie has seared his soul and in fact still has an influence on him as a filmmaker. For me it was the eerily evil Talky Tina, from an old episode of “The Twilight Zone” (Living Doll). And then there was Fats, the manipulative ventriloquist dummy in Magic (based on the excellent novel by William Goldman). After the 1970s and with the explosion of the slasher genre, we got much more terrorizing toys – like the relentless Chucky from Child’s Play and the murderous minions in Puppet Master.
Annabelle was first introduced in The Conjuring, directed by Wan and based in the real-life lore of ghostbusters and demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. She was so spooky, she got her own spinoff in 2014 with Annabelle, directed by John R. Leonetti. The movie was, by most accounts, a misfire. But the deadly dolly was just too scary-good to retire, so now there is Annabelle: Creation, which is her origin tale.
This period piece opens even longer ago, when a dollmaker named Samuel Mullins (LaPaglia) and his gentle wife, Esther (Otto), lose their only child – a daughter named Annabelle – in a tragic accident. The grieving couple makes a deal with the devil, so to speak, and their child returns in the form of a glorious doll carved by Samuel’s own hand and dressed in clothes Esther sewed herself. At first, it’s a bittersweet return… but then, as you can guess, Annabelle shows her true demonic nature. The couple shutters her away within the walls of their prairie mcmansion and tries to forget about her.
Twenty years later, Sam and Esther decide to open their hearts and their home to a displaced nun and girls from an orphanage that has been closed. Sister Charlotte (Sigman) is young and vibrant, more of a friend to the children than a figure of supreme authority. The two girls we get to know best, Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson), are both downright cherubic – with their blonde hair and sunny dispositions, they put the canvasses of Raphael Sanzio to shame. Annabelle senses these sweet souls and does everything in her power to extinguish their light.
Though the girls and the nun are the beacons of good in Annabelle: Creation, they are painted with enough texture to be relatable, believable, and ultimately worth caring for once Annabelle sets her supernatural sights on them. While the talents of LaPaglia and Otto are more or less wasted in these secondary roles, it’s okay because Sigman, Bateman, and Wilson are so excellent. Bateman, especially. She has to express a massive character arc, not only emotionally, but physically. When she arrives at the Mullins home, Janice is wearing leg braces because of polio. After a few bouts with Annabelle, she’s wheelchair-bound… and it only gets worse.
While I do prefer Wan’s style of slowly-eked suspense, Sandburg’s scares are successful. He straddles a nice cinematic line between the measured burn of 1970s auteur horror and today’s hit-and-run shocks tailor-made for the ADD generation. I found the story just a bit messy. But Sandberg has said that when the Annabelle: Creation script came to him, it was a lot longer and had everyone’s backstories – thank goodness, the director made it leaner and meaner. (And it is quite mean… rated R, and no fucks given when it comes to killing kids.)
Annabelle herself is pretty much just a doll. She is not shown walking or talking. She simply appears and disappears. She is, in fact, the puppet master of the ghoulish goings-on. There are some other demonic apparitions – a scarecrow, a shadowy witch-demon (played by franchise fave Joseph Bishara), bone-creaking possessed kiddies, and even the Conjuring 2 Nun makes a brief appearance! – all of them quite effective and doled out at just the right intervals between the human story at the center.
Aside from the performances, I most enjoyed the cinematography. DP Maxime Alexandre is a genius, and I’m a longtime admirer of his work. He teams up quite a lot with Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, the Hills Have Eyes, and the Maniac remakes, The 9th Life of Louis Drax, to name a few sumptuously-shot films stemming from their collaborations). The visuals are supported by music made from the mind of a composer who’s period-savvy; Benjamin Wallfisch also worked on Hidden Figures, Bobby, and The Little Prince.
While Annabelle: Creation was not perfect for me (I seldom give five-star reviews), it’s definitely a worthy entry – if not one of the best – in the Conjuring universe of horror. I’d watch it again. Annabelle: Creation should be seen late at night, in the dark.
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
The Predator Lands In Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Hunt a Serial Killer Through Chicago In My Eyes On You
Netflix Renews The Punisher Solo Series for Season Two!
New Sneak Peek of The X-Files Teases What to Expect This Season
First Look: The Curse of All Hallows’ Eve
Mindhunter Review: The Best Netflix Original Series to Date
Tony Timpone’s Elegy – AFM: A November to Dismember
Horror Movies to Be Thankful for on Thanksgiving
DVD and Blu-ray Releases: November 21, 2017
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Join the Box of Dread Mailing List
News4 days ago
Exclusive: Scream 2’s Jerry O’Connell and Kevin Williamson Talk Leaked Scripts and Different Killers!
News5 days ago
Jim Carrey and The Grinch Go Beyond Whoville
News2 days ago
Blade Runner 2049 Blu-ray Release Date and Special Features Announced
News4 days ago
Terrifier – Dread Central Presents Poster Premiere! Release Date Announced!
News3 days ago
New Trailer Arrives for Overkill’s The Walking Dead Video Game
Reviews5 days ago
Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!
News1 day ago
Rob Zombie Narrates Charles Manson’s Last Words to a Wider Audience
News4 days ago
Exclusive: Watch Gremlins: Recall With Director Ryan Patrick’s Commentary