Demon

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

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The Conjuring 2

In 1977 a single mother and her four children living in the London borough of Enfield began to experience a haunting. All the activity seemed to be focused around the daughter, Janet. As things begin to get worse the Catholic church reached out to Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are paranormal investigators, to look into the case and see if it is a true haunting or a hoax. As the Warrens dig into the haunting, they soon realize there is much more to this case than meets the eye.

James Wan has brought another compelling true story to terrify audiences. What makes the Conjuring films so fascinating is the simple fact that they are based on truth. Add to that Wan’s unique style and his talent for creating scares, and you get a very frightening film. Part of the reason that the scares are so successful is because Wan utilizes many different kinds of scares. There was of course a good number of jump scares, but there were also more subtle scares and times when your attention is drawn elsewhere only for a scare to pop out somewhere else. The Conjuring 2 delivered on bigger scares, while still keeping the classic eerie feeling that we know and love from the first film.

When making a sequel, it is important to not only go bigger than you did in the first one, but you must also build on the mythology that was started. The Conjuring 2 definitely delivered on both points. As we follow the Warrens on their investigation we are reminded of events that happened in the first film. Then of course those events are expanded upon in this film. It creates a cohesion between the two movies and it resolves some of the unanswered questions.

As I previously mentioned, the scares were definitely bigger, but they also used imagery that took the film to another level. You may have noticed from the trailer that there are some more classic makeup effects in order to create the look for the Enfield poltergeist, as well as the possession makeup for Janet. I especially loved Janet’s makeup because it felt like a nod to The Exorcist with the veins across the face and haunting eyes. Then of course there is the nun character. The look they did was so simple with pale white skin and black around the eyes, yet it was probably one of the most terrifying manifestations of evil in the entire franchise. Unfortunately this is where I have to bring up probably the only thing I didn’t like about this film. This is a story that is very much rooted in actual events that took place. That being said, there was one manifestation that the evil in the Enfield home took on that did not feel at all real to me. Without giving too much away it was very big, scary, and could not have been pulled out without the help of CGI. The CGI was well done, but it just didn’t seem to fit in with the film and took it to a realm far outside what I could believe to be real. One could easily argue that the entire film is fantasy, but it is based on truth and the advertising wanted you to know that. If this CGI evil being had been in a different film, I likely would have enjoyed it much more.

The acting in The Conjuring 2 was just as good as it was in the first film. Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring, Bates Motel) and Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring, Insidious) were fantastic as Lorraine and Ed Warren. Of course they are incredibly talented actors, but their chemistry on screen is what draws viewers in and makes us fall in love with them. The biggest surprise in this cast was Madison Wolfe (Joy, Trumbo) as the focus of these hauntings, Janet. When I looked her up to see what other acting gigs she had. I was shocked to find that she has been in many great films and TV shows. She isn’t even English and she looks COMPLETELY different in real life than she does in The Conjuring 2. Her performance was so powerful and disturbing. She is a young actress that I can’t wait to see more of.

The Conjuring 2 keeps audiences cowering in their seats while delivering one of the most frightening films in the past decade. It has the scares, the story, and the performances to push the film into the relatively small club of horror movie sequels that are actually great. There have been many who have said that The Conjuring 2 was better than its predecessor. While I disagree with that, I still believe this was a near perfect sequel. If it wasn’t for the addition of CGI that seemed out of place I may have agreed that this film surpassed the original. James Wan has created yet another masterful film that will go down in history with other classics such as The Exorcist and the Shining. Run, don’t walk, to the theaters so you can experience the frights and scares how they were meant to be seen; on a big screen with a theater full of people to scream and jump with.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (February)

Nestled in the country is an all girls Catholic boarding school. Two girls end up stranded at their school during break when they are the only two whose parents fail to pick them up. The girls begin to experience strange happenings in this cold, secluded school. Elsewhere, a young woman is doing whatever she can to get to that same boarding school. As the web that connects these three girls becomes unraveled, it soon becomes clear there is something sinister at work.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (formerly known as February) was a huge accomplishment for first time directer Osgood Perkins. This is the kind of horror film that has such an atmospheric presence. You often know bad things are coming – sometimes you even know what those bad things are – yet when the moment finally happens, it is no less shocking or terrifying. Perkins, who also wrote the film, does an excellent job of revealing different plot points in a way that isn’t necessarily chronological, but in an order that helps you to understand more of the story when it is important. There are elements of a traditional devil/possession horror film present, but much of the way it is presented feels fresh. It is clear from the beginning that this film focuses more on the characters involved and creating a feeling of impending doom, rather than traditional scares. In this regard, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a masterpiece.

The three female leads in this film were incredibly strong. Keirnan Shipka (Mad Men) was absolutely haunting as Kat, the youngest of the two girls at the boarding school. As you can see from the trailer, Shipka’s portrayal of Kat moves from a lonely innocence to deeply disturbed during the course of the film. Lucy Boynton (Copperhead) was also amazing as the other girl stranded at the school, Rose. What I loved about Boynton as Rose was that she was a bit of a bad girl, but she was incredibly relatable at the same time. You felt for Rose and cared about her well being. I will be completely honest, generally I am not a huge fan of Emma Roberts (Scream Queens, We’re the Millers). Despite this, I still thought she did a great job as the mysterious Joan. Joan is clearly broken in some way and has been through a lot in her life. Roberts conveys this aspect of Joan quite well. All three actresses stood out and drew me into their individual stories.

This is the kind of film where the evil is almost entirely working behind the scenes. There are only a couple small glimpses where you see the entity that is pulling the strings. I loved the look that the filmmakers went for. The evil in The Blackcoat’s Daughter has a look that is generally familiar in the world of devil worship and possession, but they made some small tweaks to give it a bit more unique look. I also thought it was smart for the evil entity to never really be in full view; it’s shown as more of just a shadow or silhouette. In a film like this where ambience reigns over frightening imagery, keeping the evil in the background was a wise decision.

When I didn’t get a chance to see this film at Cinequest, I was devastated. Luckily it was picked up by the Phoenix Film Festival. The way the stories of the two high school girls and the wandering young woman unravel was done in such a stunning way that it leaves your heart on the floor. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a haunting tale that breaths new life into the idea of possession and the loss of innocence. By the time the credits rolled I felt stunned and awestruck. What was great about the feelings the ending invoked was that many people I spoke with got the same feeling, even though I interpreted the ending a different way than others did. No matter what you think the final scene conveys, it will still effect you in ways you didn’t expect. While I can see horror fans that prefer more scares and gore not enjoying this film as much, people who love films for the way they make you feel will not be disappointed. If this film comes to a theater near you, do not pass it up.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

Nightlight

Covington Woods is known for being a place where people venture to commit suicide. Robin (Shelby Young) recently lost her best friend who killed himself in these woods. Despite that, she still decides to go into the woods at night with a group of the popular kids to drink, tell scary stories about the forest, and play flightlight games. Everything starts out innocently enough, but strange things begin to happen that the friends can’t explain. There is something evil waiting for them in the dark depths of the forest, and it’s out for blood.

When I first heard about this film it seemed like a scary concept. Found footage films generally scare me quite a bit, and most towns have at least one area that is known for suicides. This film definitely had intense moments and a few good jump scares. Sadly, I felt more disappointment than anything after finishing the film, and there are many aspects that took away from what could have been a really scary story.

The acting was quite disappointing. The only performance that didn’t feel forced and unnatural came from Mitch Hewer (Skins). The only downside to his performance was that there were multiple occasions where his English accent came through. It wasn’t just a word or two where he lost the American accent; it was full sentences where he went from sounding like the average American teen to an Englishman trying to hide his accent. The other three leads gave such lackluster performances that I found myself not caring about the well-being of their characters. Shelby Young (Days of Our Lives) I found particularly annoying. This was likely due not only to her acting being unconvincing, but her character also just did so many idiotic things throughout the film. That likely has more to do with the writing, but it still bothered me.

One thing that made me dislike the movie the most was how it made it unclear what the source of the evil was. In the beginning, when the teens are telling scary stories, they talk about people being possessed in the woods and what to do (or not to do) in order to avoid the evil spirits that lurk in the forest. These stories, and some of the events later in the film, lead me to believe that the evil in the forest is some kind of demonic presence. Later, it is implied that maybe Robin’s friend who had killed himself in those woods was doing this to the teens in order to punish them. Robin even addresses the evil as Ethan (her friend who committed suicide) many times. The film goes back and forth between implying the source is demonic and the source is Ethan. At the end of the film it felt like that question was never really answered. Personally, I fell like it makes so much more sense that there is a demonic presence making everything happen instead of Ethan. Maybe the filmmakers meant for you to interpret it how you see it, but it just came across as confused.

When it comes to the scares, this film did a fairly good job. As I said before, found footage films always tend to scare me just because it feels like you are seeing things from the point of view of the victims. On top of that, this film did a good job of doing the more subtle jump scares. This means it relied more on spooky noises and catching small glimpses of the evil. It is always so much scarier when you can’t see what it is that’s after you. There is really only one scene where you get a full view of the evil, and of course, that is one of the least-scary scenes in the entire film. I would go so far as to say the full view of the evil landed more on the cheesy side rather than scary.

Despite all the negative things I have said about the film, there are a few things that I enjoyed. I felt like it was an interesting idea, there were definitely times where I jumped, and it had a really cute dog in it named Kramer. There were just more parts that I didn’t enjoy that outweigh the good. The biggest disappoints were the acting and the tragically large plot holes. I can see this being more entertaining for teenage audiences, but if you are like me and need a bit more substance then you should probably skip this one.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

The Fleeges, Ryan (Chris J. Murray) and Emily (Brit Shaw), recently moved into their dream home. While getting decorations out for the holidays, they find a strange video camera from the eighties along with some old tapes. The camera seems to be able to see things that cannot be seen with the naked eye. As the family starts filming their home with this special camera, and as they go through the old tapes, strange things begin to happen in their home. All of the activity seems to be centered around the daughter, Leila (Ivy George). Will the family be able to get rid of the evil in their house before it’s too late?

Before I begin my review of this film, I feel like I need to establish my feelings about the previous films. I absolutely loved Paranormal Activity 1-3. They scared me to death, and each film built upon the mythology more and more. On the other hand, I thought Paranormal Activity 4 was horrible. It was completely pointless, and there were multiple plot holes. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was decent (better than 4). It had a bit more humor than the previous films and it definitely built on the mythology some more. This installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise, while successful on rounding out the series, ended the films on a rather mediocre note.

What made the first three films so intense and terrifying was how the scares were presented. The scares started out very slow and subtle; so subtle that you may have missed something that happened the first time you watched it. The scares became bigger and bigger from there until the horrifying finales. This installment took a slightly different approach. With the use of the special video camera you can see the entity known as “Toby.” He starts out as transparent disturbances seen on the camera, but quickly gains a more opaque form. While it was very interesting to finally get an idea of what the legendary Toby looks like, actually seeing him also kind of ruined the effect. It is much more frightening to be stalked by something you can’t see. I also feel like they dove into the big jump scares too early in the film. The previous films built up the tension much more before using the jump scares. This installment almost entirely skipped building the tension. While the jump scares definitely scared me on multiple occasions, using them as the sole source of frightening viewers does not make a successful film.

The most successful aspect of this film was how it added to the mythology that has been building for 6 films. Warning: if you haven’t seen the previous films, then these might be spoilers. In the previous films we have learned that Toby is a demon (and not a ghost, so why is this film called Ghost Dimension?), a coven of witches called the Midwives orchestrated everything, and Katie and Kristi were chosen to be major parts of the Midwives’ evil plot. This film reveals more information. Not only do we learn more about what happened to Katie and Kristi as children after the third film, but we also learn the ultimate goal of the Midwives. Sequels are pointless unless they add something new to the story and help us to further understand the “why” behind the plot. In this regard, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension did an excellent job.

I have mixed feelings when it comes to the special effects in this film. For the most part, I generally enjoyed the way they showed Toby through the special video camera. I especially loved when they made it look as though he is made out of black liquid. It’s when Toby ends up looking like he is made out of black smoke that they lost me a bit. The filmmakers went from a look that was both stylish and unique to a look you would expect from a hokey ghost movie. They should have stuck with the more liquid look, which was much more original and terrifying than the smoke.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is an entertaining film with lots of good scares. It also had an interesting plot that brought a fitting end to the Paranormal Activity franchise. There is definitely room for improvement. The special effects were used a bit too much, and the film did not have the same intensity of the previous films. It may have been fine as a standalone film, but considering this film is the end of a series of films, it is impossible not to compare it to its predecessors. People who loved the earlier films will likely enjoy the story, but be disappointed that this film rushed into the big scares too quickly so that they almost became mundane by the end of the film.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Sinister 2

After the horrific murder of the true crime writer, Ellison Oswalt, and Oswalt’s family, Ex-Deputy So & So decides to pick up the investigation. He begins to follow the pattern in which the Bughuul finds its victims. This pattern leads him to a house that he intended to burn to the ground, only to arrive to find a single mother with her twin boys living in the house. The ex-deputy must race against the clock. If he isn’t able to break the pattern then this unsuspecting family will be doomed.

When the first Sinister film came out, I thought it looked pretty lame. Then I saw it and I had to sleep with the light on that night. After seeing the first trailer for Sinister 2, I got excited, mostly because it looked like they were going to add to the mythology of the Bughuul. It is my personal opinion that horror sequels are pointless unless they add to the mythology of the franchise in some way. While this addition to the franchise did add some to the mythology, it was quite a failure in most other aspects.

The best aspect of this story line was was the investigative side. Learning more about how the Bughuul finds its victims was very interesting, although I do wish they had gone a bit more into the Bughuul’s origins as well (it was only briefly touched on in the first film). Sadly, there wasn’t much else that I liked about the story. The murders of the previous families in this film were kind of ridiculous. It felt like the filmmakers were trying to come up with more elaborate deaths to compete with the first film, but they went way over the top. They just didn’t seem as believable. There were also several aspects of the plot that appeared to just be thrown in and were not relevant to the story (such as a random romantic aspect and an abusive ex-husband).

Another major flaw with this film was that it was not even remotely scary. The first film was terrifying. This installment tried so hard to be scary, but it just fell flat. One major reason for the lack of scares was that everything that was supposed to instill fear was to visible. The creepy kids from the previous murders were out and in your face so often that they were no longer really that creepy. As for the Bughuul, it was much of the same issue. In the first film you only caught glimpses of this evil being. In this film, it seemed like everywhere you look the Bughuul was there. It is Horror Films 101 that the big evil should be primarily in the shadows in order to maintain its fearsome appeal. He popped out so often that you never truly feared seeing the Bughuul, so the general reaction become “Oh, there’s that Bughuul guy again.”

As for the acting, I’d say half the cast did a great job and the other half was a bit lackluster. James Ransone (Sinister, Oldboy) did a great job of reprising his role as the deputy who assisted Oswalt in the first film. What I especially enjoyed was that there was a clear evolution in his character from the first film to the second. He was still quite goofy in both films, but the second film showed Ex-Deputy So & So with a weight on his shoulders and clearly more weary with the knowledge he carries. Shannyn Sossamon (A Knight’s Tale) played the mother who unknowingly moved into a house marked for death. While there was nothing necessarily bad about her acting, she did have a fake Southern accent that was more distracting than it should have been. The twins were played by real-life siblings, Robert Daniel Sloan (Hero of the Day) and Dartanian Sloan (Hick). Robert Daniel played Dylan, the twin who is constantly haunted by the previous victims of the Bughuul. He did a great job of portraying the kinder, seemingly weaker of the twins who really wants nothing to do with the old “home movies.” Dartanian unfortunately was slightly less believable. His character was definitely a bit of a sociopath, which Dartanian portrayed well, but there were many times where it felt like his acting was too exaggerated.

I wouldn’t say this film was horrible. It had the potential to be as good as the first film, but the filmmakers made unfortunate choices that diluted the main story line and overexposed everything that was supposed to be scary. If it wasn’t for Ransone’s part in the film, I probably would tell you this film wasn’t even worth watching, especially since the last 2 minutes of the film left me baffled and very unsatisfied. If you enjoyed his character in the first film, then I would recommend giving Sinister 2 a chance. Just be warned, this film will likely leave you scratching your head and jonesing for the scares that you expected but didn’t get.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10

Horns

Poor Ig. He was just a young guy in love until the love of his life, Merrin, was raped and murdered. Now the entire town thinks he was the one who killed her, especially since his love had dumped him that very same night. In his despair, Ig turns his back on God and wakes up one morning to find that he is growing horns. These horns give him some rather interesting powers. The people that look at his horns feel the need to divulge their deepest darkest secrets to Ig, and he can make them do things, and when he touches a person he can see their secrets. The best part is, no one remembers this once they can’t see the horns anymore. Ig uses these new powers to try to find out who murdered his beloved and clear his name.

This was definitely an entertaining film. The story was your basic murder mystery, but they gave it a very interesting twist. Something else that I really enjoyed was the story had flashbacks woven throughout the film. Sometimes movies do this and it gets boring because the flashbacks can be irrelevant to what is going on in the present. Horns did a great job of making sure the flashbacks not only gave your really excellent back story so you better understand the characters, but the flashbacks also were important pieces to help explain what was happening in the present.

When it came to Ig’s power that makes people tell him the truth, he definitely gets some mixed results. Most of the time what people tell him is funny. Things like “I want to burn this place down to get the insurance money” and “I think about this person naked” are the types of humerus secrets usually heard. On the other hand, some of the confessions are far more serious. The scenes where Ig confronts his parents and they confess how they really feel is both very believable and very heartbreaking to watch. It makes the whole situation more realistic in the sense that you could imagine that is what his parents were really thinking but would never speak in a normal situation.

In terms of the effects, there were really only a few important ones to mention. Obviously, the horns themselves were very well done. Even in the beginning when you are watching them grow it looks pretty damn lifelike. There are also several CGI snakes in the later parts of the film. Obviously a lot of the time you can tell they are fake snakes, but there were many times where I couldn’t tell if the snake was real or not (they did use real snakes in certain scenes but even then it was hard to tell the difference). At the climax of the film there are some amazing CGI effects (which I won’t get too much into, I hate spoilers) that are beautifully done.

The one thing that bothered me was the actual mystery part of the film. Now, I am the kind of person that usually figures out the big twist very early on in a movie. That being said, I think most people can figure out who the real murderer is pretty early on without using a lot of brain power. It definitely made the story a little less exciting when Ig is anxiously trying to find the killer, but it was still entertaining watching everything unfold. I would say the bigger mystery isn’t so much who the killer is, but why Merrin broke up with him in the first place. That was also something that I figured out before it was revealed in the story, but it took a lot longer to figure out than who the murderer was.

I would definitely recommend this movie. If the fact that the film stars Harry Potter isn’t enough for you (it was enough for me), then see it because it’s a good story that is not only dark and ominous but also has some hilarity mixed in. It also has some random things that made me enjoy it like the fact that it took place in Washington state and it had great music. Just try not to be too disappointed if you figure out who the killer is pretty quickly. There are plenty of other aspects of the film that make it fun to watch.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10