Month: August 2017

The Spirit Machine (Short)

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A down on his luck widower searches through a remote home, along with his teenage daughter, looking for old items he could sell for a profit. While rummaging through the piles of junk the daughter finds evidence suggesting Thomas Edison’s last invention may be hidden somewhere on the property. The pair decide to search for the invention known as “The Spirit Machine.” What they find is much more than they bargained for.

When I received the email telling me Timothy Plain had written and directed another horror short I was thrilled. Almost a year ago the first short film I reviewed was another short he directed, Over My Dead Body. While that film was more of a comedic short, Plain went in a different direction for The Spirit Machine. This supernatural adventure will take you back to some of your favorite childhood films. Plain drew inspiration from the booby traps of Indiana Jones films and the frightening specters from Poltergeist, as well as other classic films. The passion that went into the making of this film can even be seen in where the funding came from. In less than a month The Spirit Machine raised a whopping $96,000 on a Kickstarter campaign, and the filmmakers utilized that budget quite well. The sets are more elaborate, the period costumes are beautiful, and both the fabricated items and the CGI are very well done. It is all much better than I would have expected from a short film.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is that the so called “Spirit Machine” may actually exist. While it has never been found, rumors of the machine’s existence have been circulating since the 1920’s. Using this device as a springboard, Plain is able to create a compelling plot that goes even deeper than just the mystery of the machine. While the machine is what brings excitement to the film, this is also very much a story about grief and the relationship between a father and his daughter. It is a story that has a lot of heart behind it. My one true critique would be for a couple of the scenes with the daughter. She often seems a bit too knowledgeable or nonchalant about the strange things that are happening. For example, at one point the girl and her father almost get sliced by a booby trap, and she doesn’t seem even remotely phased by her near-death experience.

The two leads of The Spirit Machine did quite well. Andrea Ferreyra played the teenage daughter, Jane. This is his first acting role in a film, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the short. She does a great job overall. The only thing I found bothersome were those couple scenes where she is simply too nonchalant about what is happening. I know most teens are often that way in real life, but I also think they would be a bit more concerned after almost being decapitated. Will Springhorn (Loaded, Valentine’s Day) also does a great job as the father, Randy. Springhorn vividly portrays the deadbeat dad who would rather find his next moneymaking scheme rather than find a real job. I also want to give honorable mention to Karina Wolfe as the medium, who I recognized from Plain’s previous film, Over My Dead Body.

The Spirit Machine is a nostalgic and spooky adventure with beautiful steampunk touches. Plain does an excellent job of giving audiences a fun film that also goes deeper by touching on the different ways in which people grieve the loss of a loved one. You can tell while watching the film that the cast and crew enjoyed making this short. This film also passes my ultimate test for short films; it works well as it is but leaves just enough to make me want more. The only thing that I found irksome was how the daughter reacted to certain situations, but that is a small enough detail that it doesn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film.

You can view The Spirit Machine on YouTube by clicking here.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

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Annabelle: Creation

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A couple lost their young daughter in a tragic accident. Years later they decide to invite a nun and a group of orphaned girls to live with them after their orphanage closed down. An evil trapped within the house awakens and now it’s after the soul of one of the girls. The strange supernatural occurrences get worse with each passing day, threatening the lives of all who live in the house. It is up to the girls to try and defeat what could be the Devil himself.

After the less than well received Annabelle prequel of 2014, New Line Cinema decided to attempt a prequel to the prequel. They brought on Gary Dauberman, who also wrote the first Annabelle film, and director David F. Sandberg of Lights Out fame. These two manage to create a film worthy of being apart of The Conjuring universe. Bringing Sandberg in to direct was a great decision by the production company. Even though Annabelle: Creation is only his second feature length film, Sandberg has proven that he is a skilled horror storyteller who knows how to scare audiences. He expertly uses light and shadows to his advantage to not only bring exciting jump scares, but he also relies heavily on creating an unsettling atmosphere with more subtle spine-chilling scares. He also sets up scares in a very long, drawn out way that builds anticipation. You keep expecting the scare to come, but then it doesn’t until you are caught off guard again. Sandberg has already improved his skills since Lights Out, his first feature film, so I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

Bringing Dauderman on to write again was probably the best decision for this film. He has a clear understanding of the mythology created both in The Conjuring and in Annabelle. One of my biggest concerns going into Annabelle: Creation was how they were going to connect it to the first Annabelle film. I was almost expecting them to do what the latest Resident Evil film did and create an entirely new origin story, ignoring the previous film. Dauberman connects the two films in such a seamless manner. It is even more flawless than I could have imagined. On top of that, Dauberman creates a cast of compelling characters, each with their own fears that “Annabelle” tries to exploit. You care about each character, especially young Janice, who is recovering from polio. Caring about the characters makes the demonic presence all the more terrifying.

Having compelling characters would mean nothing if not for the actors who play them. While there are many characters, all of whom are important to the plot, it seems that there are two main characters of this film. Talitha Bateman (The 5th Wave, The Hive) plays Janice. Janice is a young orphan who is recovering from polio and has to use a crutch to get around. She suffers the most from the demon since she is the weak link of the orphan girls. Bateman is a new young talent and she absolutely shines in this role. From innocent girl trying to be strong for her friend to possessed by evil, Bateman shows range in her performance and I find myself completely enthralled by her. Lulu Wilson (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Deliver Us From Evil) also gives a stunning performance as Janice’s best friend, Linda. While Wilson excels in this role, I found her to be a bit of a distraction. She had just been in Ouija: Origin of Evil last year, and not only was this another horror prequel but it was set in a similar time (although I think chronologically Annabelle: Creation is earlier). Wilson is great as Linda, but I can’t stop thinking of her as Doris, especially since that film isn’t even a year old. The entire cast does a great job, making each character enjoyable to watch.

In keeping with other films in The Conjuring universe, Annabelle: Creation relies almost entirely on practical effects. Primarily the effects are to make the deceased daughter look unsettling. There is one scene where the makeup done on the girl goes a bit over the top, combined with her line of dialogue, to make it much more funny than scary. Aside from that, the effects are very well done, especially with the demon. While the demon is kept mostly in the shadow, which makes it even more disturbing, they keep its look simple and iconic. Often times what you don’t see is even more terrifying than what you can see, and Annabelle: Creation is a perfect example of that.

I went into Annabelle: Creation somewhat guarded and with low expectations. I came out of the theater with a partially numb arm from crouching awkwardly in fear. Annabelle: Creation is the most frightening film of 2017, so far, and it renews my faith in The Conjuring spin-off films. There are a couple scares that come across more funny than frightening, and I found the casting of Wilson to be rather distracting, but overall I am very pleased with this film. It is exceptionally well acted, has great scares, and perfectly connects to the films that came before it. Annabelle: Creation truly exceeds my expectations. Be sure to keep an eye out for a couple fun Easter eggs in this film, as well as a mid and post credit scene that you won’t want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

The Dark Tower

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A young boy is consumed by his strange dreams. He sees a tower, a man in black who seeks to destroy the tower, and a gunslinger who seeks revenge. The dreams lead him to another world that has been ravaged by the man in black. He must find the gunslinger and aid him in defeating the man in black. If they fail, the tower will fall. If the tower falls, darkness will consume our world.

To start off I will say that I have never read The Dark Tower by Stephen King. I had no frame of reference going into this film so I had little to no expectations. Even with no expectations I still feel nothing but disappointment and confusion when thinking about The Dark Tower film. The film had such promise. It has a great cast, a big Hollywood budget, and (from what I understand) amazing source material. The number one issue with The Dark Tower is not only does it not follow what is written in the book, but it also creates this entire grand mythos without actually explaining any of it. The audience is introduced to the man in black and the gunslinger, but we don’t really learn anything about who or what they are and the motivations behind their actions. The audience is shown skin-stealing creatures who work for the man in black, but it is never explained what they actually are. There are entirely new worlds that are somehow connected by portals and the tower, but viewers never learn how this connection works. The film is only an hour and 35 minutes long. The fact that the filmmakers didn’t take an extra half hour to better develop the characters and the world they created is mind-boggling.

The effects of the film also leave much to be desired. The choice to use CGI throughout the film doesn’t bother me. With the world they are trying to create it is the most logical option. What does bother me is that there appears to be little effort put into these effects, making many scenes look like something from a made for TV movie instead of the blockbuster hit this film was supposed to be. The climax of the film is where the flaws are the most glaringly obvious. The final scenes look ridiculous, taking out any excitement or suspense, and the entire sequence of events is simply too brief. This is just another example that shows how a little more time and a bit more effort could have greatly improved the film.

The actors were one of the few positive aspects of The Dark Tower. The material the had to work with was thin, but the leads all did what they could with it. Idris Elba (Prometheus, Thor) did his best to make the gunslinger, Roland, as interesting and complex as possible. This is no easy thing to do with what Elba had to work with, but his talent still shows through the muck and the mire. It is clear that Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar, Dallas Buyers Club) has the potential to make an incredible villain. There are moments in his portrayal of Walter, who is also known as the man in black, where McConaughey expertly portrays the evil within. Sadly, the writing of his character and the way he is directed in certain scenes keep McConaughey from rising to his true potential. Tom Taylor (Broken Hearts, Doctor Foster) is probably the most developed character as the young Jake. This gave Taylor more opportunity to show his acting skills and to portray an enjoyable character, as far as the writing allowed. My one note for Taylor is that there are times where his accent breaks through, especially when he says the word “gunslinger.”

I want to like this movie. It is overflowing with potential and it creates a universe that I want to learn more about. The Dark Tower has an interesting premise and phenomenal actors. Unfortunately, not only will fans of Stephen King’s book leave wondering where the story they know and love went, but people who have never read the books will likely leave even more confused. There are simply too many plot points and characters that are not fully developed. The best part of The Dark Tower is hunting for the other Stephen King Easter eggs hidden throughout the film. If you plan on seeing this film I will say it will probably be more enjoyable on the big screen than on your television at home, but The Dark Tower isn’t a film I would go rushing to the theaters to see.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10