REVIEW: ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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The third time is the charm, as the latest Annabelle flick is a haunted house roller coaster ride of scares, fun and thrills! The film starts off from the opening scene of The Conjuring with paranormal investigators Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick WIlson) Warren, bringing the haunted doll home and placing it in their room of haunted and cursed objects, locked inside a blessed glass cathedral case. They have to go away overnight and leave their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace), who has inherited some of her mother’s psychic abilities, with pretty babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Mary Ellen’s feisty friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) comes over, too, and despite warnings, goes into the forbidden room of haunted and curse objects, in the hopes of contacting her dead father. Annabelle is released from her prison and a sleepover becomes a nightmare, as the demonic doll lets all the malevolent spirits loose with the three girls trapped inside the house.

This is how you make a haunted house movie! Gary Dauberman hits a grand slam his first time at bat as the writer and director of this threequel. He has written for The Conjuring Universe before, but shows he knows how to direct horror, too, with this delightfully old fashioned scare-fest. Dauberman uses some very atmospheric camera work, in-camera practical effects, some very well built tension and suspense, along with some outright goose-bump inducing scares, to deliver simply one of the best haunted house movies since Poltergeist..the 1982 original, that is. His script cleverly gets the adult Warrens out of the house and using some classic horror tropes turns an already spooky home in a nightmare for the three young ladies trapped inside. There are a few jump scares, but only to climax some expertly built tension while his camera turns every shadow into the potential hiding place for something evil. Anything could come from anywhere at anytime and it keeps one constantly on edge. The room of haunted objects is wisely a focus and Dauberman milks all the chilling tchotchke for all it’s worth. Despite conjuring some Carpenter level scares, it’s the emotional depth that really makes it work. The girls are all three dimensional characters. Judy is a very likable kid, who’s “spooky” parents have earned her outcast status at school, with Mary Ellen being her only real friend. Mary Ellen is a sweet and very endearing young lady and one who is very brave when tasked with protecting Judy. Her tenderness and protectiveness towards the Warren’s daughter really makes her someone whose wellbeing you care about. Daniela could have been a stereotype ‘bad girl”, but Dauberman gives her a sympathetic and sweet core under the mischievous veneer. Her inner pain over the death of her father gives her a very sympathetic and endearing quality, even if this mess is kinda her fault. Add to it all that, that the writer/director, having put you through a last act ringer, gives us a nice cool down with a very sweet climax that works far better than it should being this is a intense horror flick. Very Spielbergian.

The cast are wonderful here and really bring the scripted characters to life. Farmiga and Wilson are basically just there at the beginning and end, but have really locked these characters down. Regardless of what you think of the real Warrens, their cinematic counterparts are quite the likable duo. Mckenna Grace handles the lead like a pro. She really makes us feel Judy’s loneliness due to the reputation caused by her parents line of work and the emotional turmoil caused by inheriting her mother’s abilities. Obviously, the demonic spirit in Annabelle, targets her. Madison Iseman continues to impress as an actress. She takes the stereotypical babysitter and gives her a very endearing personality and imbuing her with a very natural sweetness in her caring for Judy. She’s also brave and resilient when Annabelle’s demonic entity unleashes all the other spirits, including a particularly spooky entity that sets it’s sights on the babysitter. Iseman has a natural girl-next-door presence and she really makes this character three dimensional. Same could be said of Katie Sarife as Daniela. Her character is more the mischievous bad girl, but Sarife really makes her a bit complex as inside she is in pain over the death of her father and it motivates some of the bad decisions she makes. She wants to talk to her father one last time. She is also very sweet at heart, especially when it comes to Judy. Makes for a very un-stereotypical classic character. All three young actresses share great chemistry, which makes their on-screen relationships gel realistically. Lastly, is Michael Cimino as Bob, a nice boy who has a crush on Mary Ellen. Their awkward and sweet conversation scene, when he comes over to the Warren’s to see her, has such a natural feel to it. A perfect example of a good script meeting a good cast.

This movie gave continual goose-bumps to a man who has literally been watching horror movies for half a century. It proves when a talented director pushes all the right buttons, and in the right ways, old tropes can become solid scares. We have a nice build to the story and given time to get to know some well-rounded and likable characters, all the while the tension is simmering with it. We are then thrown into a literal fun house of horrors, as all hell breaks loose in the last act. Along the way Dauberman proves subtle nuances can be just as scary as grotesque phantoms and nothing makes the scares stronger than a solid emotional center to all the supernatural hijinx. An incredibly impressive directorial debut from Gary Dauberman who delivers one of the scariest flicks in quite some time and yet one with some surprisingly sweet and sentimental moments that mix far better than one might expect. Evoking Carpenter and Spielberg at their best in your first flick is quite an accomplishment.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Annabelles.

 

 

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REVIEW: GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

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GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

Sequel takes place five years after the events of Godzilla 2014 with Godzilla keeping a low profile and being monitored diligently by the Monarch organization. Other creatures, or “Titans” have been discovered across the globe and the military wants them all destroyed, while Monarch believes they represent a balance in nature. Eco-terrorist Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) feels the Titans should all be freed to restore that balance and plans to steal the Orca…a device capable of communicating with, and possibly controlling the monsters…to accomplish this. He kidnaps Orca creator Dr. Emma Russell (Verga Farmiga), her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and her invention and thus sends Monarch and Emma’s estranged husband Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) in hot pursuit. But Jonah gets more than he bargained for, when he uses it to release the three-headed space monster Ghidorah from his icy prison and the beast challenges Godzilla for the title of King of the Monsters. Add in the Queen of the Monsters Mothra and the fire demon Rodan and earth soon becomes a monster sized war zone.

Trick r Treat director Michael Dougherty takes over from Gareth Edwards and seems to have a far better grasp of the material. He also does script duties along with Zach Shields, from a story by they and Max Borenstein. What we get is far closer to a Toho Godzilla film than the 2014 flick and one that is a lot more fun. Sure the plot is a bit goofy, but no goofier than an alien race building a robot Godzilla or a creature created completely from pollution. It’s filled not only with tons of fun references to Godzilla flicks of the past, but we get all the traditional story elements like devious villains, stalwart scientists, brave military types and a smarter than the adults kid. Not only are all the tropes proudly paraded out for those familiar with the series, but it has some of the most spectacular monster battles ever presented, as Godzilla, Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra all converge to duke it out and destroy everything in their paths. The final showdown in the city of Boston is absolutely amazing and Yankee fans might even get a giggle over Godzilla and Ghidorah throwing down in the middle of Fenway Park. It’s also a true popcorn blockbuster, so even those not too familiar with the Big G and his 65 year history, can still enjoy the flick on a purely entertainment spectacle level and monstrously entertaining it is. Not to mention, the film’s final image is something every Godzilla fan has wanted to see from day one. On a technical level, the SPFX are amazing, the monsters are truly titanic and majestic and their destruction is on a totally massive scale. The score by Bear McCreary is far more fitting than Alexandre Desplat’s ho-hum score for Zilla 2014 and delightfully mixes in some of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla themes to add a nice touch of nostalgia to the film.

The cast are good and all of them get the material. They play it seriously…but not too seriously. Leads Farminga, Chandler, Brown and Dance all do well in essaying their roles. Vera Farming as the scientist with a personal reason to get involved, is solid and helps us understand her decisions, even when they are the wrong ones. Chandler is fun as the father and husband trying to get his estranged family back. He’s a good lead and his old fashioned character fits this kind of movie well. Charles Dance is impeccable as ever as the villainous Alan Jonah, who like Thanos, thinks he is doing the right thing by trying to unleash these creatures. Millie Bobby Brown is especially endearing as Madison and in many ways is the emotional center of the flick. The supporting cast are all good, too, especially Ken Watanabe returning as Dr. Ishirō Serizawa and Zhang Ziyi playing Dr. Ilene Chen, a character who pays tribute to a familiar Mothra trope in a very fun and clever way. A good cast that even give some very corny dialogue a little dramatic weight.

Overall, this was a really fun and action packed sequel to a film widely criticized for skimping on the monster action. It has monster battles to spare, but still gives us some people time along with a very Toho-esque storyline. Michael Dougherty keeps the 132 minute flick moving very fast and pays loving tribute to the classic Godzilla flicks in some fun and very clever ways. Stay through the credits for not only an end credits scene, but for some amusing interwoven news items that echo what is to come. A gargantuan blast of a good time!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) King of the Monsters.

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

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THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

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I’ll start off by saying that I do think James Wan is a good director. But Wan just seems to be making the same haunted house movie over and over again and still makes the mistake of going all theatrical in his second act when subtle was working far spookier. Sequel to Wan’s overrated hit The Conjuring starts out with real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) investigating the famous Amityville haunting. While Lorraine suffers a horrifying vision that makes her question what she’s doing, a single mother (Francis O’Connor) and her kids in Enfield, England start to have things go bump in the night. The church asks the ghost hunting couple to travel to England to establish a validity to the Hodgson family story, while Lorraine is being haunted by a frightening specter of her own.

As with most of Wan’s horror flicks the initial set-up works well and actually has some really spooky sequences. There are some nice scares in the first hour before the Warrens travel to England, with the Enfield haunting escalating and Lorraine seeing a malevolent entity in her own home. We get to know this family very well and do start to endear to them, much like we do Ed and Lorraine. Regardless of what you think of the real Warrens’ paranormal escapades, their cinematic counterparts are likable movie characters. Visually the film is well designed, too. Wan has a good eye and choses more muted shades of blue/grey this time, where his Insidious flicks were more colorful and The Conjuring used more faded shades of brown. It suits the building mood, setting and atmosphere well. It also gives the film it’s own look, which is pretty much the only thing new here. The movie starts to run into trouble though, with simply being far too long. At 134 minutes, the flick gets very tedious and it’s middle section drags with only the occasional scare…mostly of the jump variety as Wan seems to rely more on those in the second half than the tension he built in the first half. It kills his chilling momentum as the film’s moderate pace really works against it at this point. For his climax, we again get all theatrical, cliché and over-the-top with thunder and lightening, levitations, yellow contact lenses, growling voices and the now trademarked Wan snarling demon enjoying the effects of their carnage. While we are spared an actual exorcism, we still get pretty much the same end to almost all his supernatural flicks and as with those, he looses his grip with all the mechanically paraded out tropes…twice familiar now for being used repeatedly in Wan’s films, as well as supernatural horrors in general. Like I said in my opening statement, it’s like he’s making the same movie over and over again.

One familiar element that is welcome in Wan’s films is he gets good work from his actors. The cast are really good here and help keep our interest on the story despite being routine. Wilson and Farmiga really have locked in their interpretation of the Warrens and have a good chemistry together. O’Connor is very good as the hysterical mother, though it is young Madison Wolfe who really impresses as 11 year-old Janet. She is the object of the evil presence’s attention and portrays her torment well for a kid. There is a large supporting cast, including Run Lola Run’s Franka Potente, who all do well portraying people from the actual investigation. A nice touch has pictures of the cast in character posted next to the actual individuals during the closing credits.

Much like the familiarity in Wan’s movies, my review’s for them are getting equally familiar. Once again Wan shines in the first half with some legitimate scares and thick spooky atmosphere. He then gives us a bloated middle that plods along, dissipating the atmosphere he built so well early on. He wraps it up with a very theatrical and over-the-top finale, with all the well worn tropes present…yet none of the actual scares he gave us in the more involving and chilling first half. Wan is a good director…but one whose overindulgence and adhering to the same tired formula keeps his flicks from being really special and completely satisfying.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 spooks

paranormal activity 5 rating

 

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REVIEW: THE CONJURING (2013)

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THE CONJURING (2013)

Much like his Insidious, James Wan delivers some very spooky goods during the first two thirds of his latest haunted house chiller, but as with that film, loses his grip somewhat in a theatrical and overly familiar last act. The Conjuring takes place in 1971 and is based on a supposedly true case-file from world renown paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played here by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). It tells of one of their most horrifying cases, the haunting of a remote, old Rhode Island home bought by Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their five daughters. Soon after they move in, things start to go bump in the night and the family, especially the children, are increasingly terrorized by a malevolent entity and a variety of other spirits. Carolyn comes to the Warrens for help and what results is a paranormal investigation that turns into a battle against the vengeful spirit of a woman accused of being a witch and Satan worshiper, who wants to use Carolyn as a vessel for her malevolent deeds.

For the first two thirds of this flick, the skillful Wan is very good at utilizing the time honored haunted house conventions and using them well to give us some nice chills and scares. But despite Wan’s craft at scaring us in the first 2/3 of this horror flick, he once again, as he did in Insidious, looses his grip on us with a finale that is theatrical and far too routine, as it presents yet another by-the-numbers exorcism scene that brings nothing new and therefore no suspense to the story. It’s just more levitation and vomiting and scary contact lenses that adds nothing remotely fresh to the convention. And this is odd because, Wan is good as making the conventions effective such as birds flying into windows and the customary furniture moving and shadowy phantoms. We’ve seen it all before, sure, but Wan presents them well. Yet while the rest of the movie is grounded in these basic conventions, he goes full blown Hollywood horror with his last act and we get a finale that is stale and predictable right down to characters being dragged around the floor by invisible assailants. Granted he is following a supposedly true tale, but it disappoints that he can’t seem to maintain the level of creepiness and loosens his grasp on us in the over-indulgence of giving us a ‘big finale’ as he did in his last haunted house horror. And even with that, Conjuring ends suddenly and with kind of a whimper when all is said and done. You’re like ‘that’s it? it’s over?’ This is supposed to be one of the Warrens’ worst cases, yet it doesn’t seem any worse then their Amityville Horror or Haunting In Connecticut cases. The film never really takes us on the decent into Hell you’d expect when someone like The Warrens makes claim that this is one of their worst encounters. It isn’t any more severe then Insidious or any other haunted house movie.

But, still, it is effective enough to entertain to a decent degree and Wan’s visual style is great to look at as always. Despite some hokey dialog, the cast all perform well, thought I again feel Patrick Wilson is a bit wooden especially compared to the livelier Farmiga and Lili Taylor, who really does strong work here.

All in all, The Conjuring is effective enough to amuse and entertain, but in the end, is far too routine and familiar to really be something special or truly scary enough to make it stand out from the rest. Go in with moderate expectations and you might have a good time.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 spooks!

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