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Annabelle: Creation

Skeptical.  That was the attitude that I had going in to see the newest installment in the ever-so-scary-as-shit world that James Wan created when he made The Conjuring.

The first Annabelle film left me frustrated, since it was virtually impossible to make a film that features one of the creepiest dolls of all time, and have it be a dud – but, turns out,  it was possible, because that was what Annabelle was.  Save for a few frightening scenes with a demon, the stupidity of the protagonists and the lameness of the story resulted in a disappointing start for the doll with the soul-eating grin.

Despite this, my loyalty to creepy dolls and my eternal yearning to be terrified endured;  I mustered up the cash and will power to see Annabelle’s inception.  To my great astonishment, Creation turned out to be light-years better than its predecessor – an occurrence that happens only once in about 100 years.

The cinematography makes scenes excruciating, as the filmmakers know how to thread the needle of suspense to the nth degree.  Not unlike the other films in the Wan-o-sphere, the characters (and, by extension, the audience) find themselves peering into dark rooms and hallways and spaces – they see nothing, but know that something is there;  the camera is then left pointing into the abyss, pointing directly at the unseen sinister beings.  The creators use this fear-inducing tool so effectively that it’s cringe-worthy, with the viewer begging, “Just jump out of the *bleeping* dark and scare me already!”  This simple trick started in Insidious, was most powerful in The Conjuring, and continues to be a staple of the Wan films, as experienced here.

Another positive to the film:  a mostly female cast containing strong female characters, with the most impressive performances coming from the younger ones of the bunch. (Annabelle herself never has to do much to impress audiences with her presence, to be sure.)

The film does not hesitate to reference its sister-films, with tie-ins to the nun from The Conjuring 2 and the first Annabelle;  I was ecstatic when it even showed a Raggedy-Ann, which was actually the REAL Annabelle doll that the Warrens confiscated and housed in their room of possessed items. (Seriously, everybody who saw The Conjuring at some point Googled the doll that was inspired by Annabelle’s story).

With strong writing, disturbing imagery, and a minimal yet effective soundtrack, the film establishes itself as a firm addition to what I believe to be the scariest saga of the decade, and further reminds me of why I never played with dolls as a child.

 

**Rating:  84/100**

 


 

IT

Why do kids like clowns?  Why do parents hire them for birthday parties?  Why do kids flock to them and ask them to make a balloon of the Milky Way galaxy?  I have never understood it, and I probably never will.

Clowns cannot be trusted.  Their faces are literally a façade that masks their real emotions and intentions, which, let’s face it, can sometimes be murderous (See:  John Wayne Gacy).

Hopefully, with the popularity and success of Stephen King’s IT reaching record-breaking heights, what I like to call Clown Danger Awareness will be more appreciated and widespread.

The director is Andy Muschietti, who also directed and co-wrote the film Mama.  The editing in Muschietti’s movies  provokes fear in a way that is atypical of today’s horror movies: by movement of the malevolent objects on the screen.  Instead of reverting to the fast-cutting technique to amp up the shock like we see in almost every horror film now, he leaves the camera on Pennywise as he slinks like a slug offscreen, or when Pennywise uncontorts himself and menacingly approaches the camera.  It’s scary enough seeing something that’s not supposed to be there, but it’s another to have it chase you.  And, when it comes to a story about your biggest fear finding YOU, it’s much more frightening having it both mentally *and* physically pursue and unhinge you.

The kid actors were exceptional, with group chemistry and individual likability that leaves the viewer sympathetic to their supernatural and not-so-supernatural plights.   Even little Georgie, who has only a small amount of screen time, is the epitome of childhood innocence and naivety;  this is why, despite the hope that maybe he will be smart enough to run when he sees a clown in the sewer, that he cannot survive.  Innocence, however pure and good, sometimes is no match for pure evil.

One of the things that sets this horror film apart is the fact that child murders and child exploitation are at the forefront of the plot – not something that is very popular in mainstream media.  You never see it, and even if the story requires it, you rarely ever get to actually SEE it onscreen.  When it comes to cinema, child killings have been a taboo subject since its inception.

Not the case for this film.  IT strays from the norm and stays true to its source material and includes extremely ruthless scenes that had me think “Wow, they just did that”.  But, if you are going to brutalize children, you should go all the way with it.

From flying to the back of your seat and almost defecating yourself, to almost being moved to tears when Bill is confronted by Pennywise posing as little Georgie in a heart-wrenching battle of wills, IT hits all the points on the horror film spectrum.

Beep Beep, Richie!

**Rating: 94/100**

 


 

It Stains the Sands Red

Have you ever thought about how slow and flat-out incapable zombies (excluding the 28 Days Later type) are in terms of physically chasing down and killing their human prey? When someone gets bit by a good ol’ old-fashioned zombie, it’s either because A) they were the character with the lowest IQ, B) they were the antagonist and their death scene had been highly anticipated, or C) the writers couldn’t have had EVERY character survive.

The concept of mobility in zombie films has always interested me, as different approaches are taken among different Z-day portrayals. For example, in the Resident Evil films, the zombies tend to change speeds – when the plot needs them to be slow to create a suspenseful situation, they are slow; when the plot needs the dead meaty creatures to be fast and take a chomp on somebody, they are fast. On the flip side of this lackadaisical attitude toward the velocity of the undead, in the remake of Night of the Living Dead, Barbara speaks the smartest words ever spoken in a Z-film: “They’re so slow. We could just walk right past them. We wouldn’t even have to run” (Romero, 1990). Behold, an idea that everyone that finds themselves in such a situation should remember! Instead of falling into the same cliches and needless absurdities that a lot of these movies cling to, that one drew attention to the extreme physical restrictions of zombies.

It Stains the Sands Red takes this concept and runs with it, pun intended.

Molly and her boyfriend/drug dealer find themselves stranded outside Las Vegas amidst a zombie apocalypse. Eventually a zombie comes along and kills the boyfriend, leaving Molly alone to high-tail it to an air base, some 36 miles across the desert. Armed with a small amount of water bottles, a bottle of vodka, a lighter, and other random items, she begins this life-or-death journey as the same zombie continues to follow her with a dedicated yet realistic zombie’s persistence; when she tires and her pace slows, so does Smalls’ (her nickname for the zombie, short for “small dick”). From calling him a stalker and making fun of his hair, to dragging him along with her using a blow-up raft, Molly’s relationship to Smalls evolves from prey-predator to something a little more complicated and intensely more comical.

A thematic layer can be discerned, but not overtly stated: it is as if, by chasing her, the zombie was pushing her to survive and to move forward with her own life, past regrets included. The chase, however harrowing and frightening, was actually a catalyst for not just Molly’s survival, but for her personal growth as well.

The plot was fairly thin, and there were plenty of goofy moments (Molly honestly could have done with a more interesting backstory); however, the novelty and the change of framing of a zombie film that this offered definitely leaves it as one of the most unique Z-films I’ve seen as of late.

 

**Rating: 79/100**