The end of a production nightmare. Amityville: The Awakening – movie review

Back in 2013 the Weinstein Company announced that Amityville: The Awakening would be released to theatres in January of 2015, adding a tenth film to the official series – 18th considering spin-offs and remakes, 22nd including the movies from The Conjuring universe!

Ever since, there have been rumours stating that the female lead (Bella Thorne) acted without the permission of her parents (she was underage during the making process); others claimed that the production companies weren’t satisfied with the final product; somebody else said Christopher Quaratino, one time resident of the real Amityville house, sued the production companies working on Amityville: The Awakening for inaccurate portrait of the events and exploitation of a tragic story.

Amityville Awakening 1Seemingly, Quarantino’s real intentions consisted of making his own documentary styled film about the ‘actual events’ involving the most notorious haunted house in horror history. This seems quite exploitative to me, mate!

Anyway, the film was finally thrown out there a few days ago, straight to Google Play.

Obviously, when a movie has such a messy production backstory, you expect it to be a train wreck and Amityville: The Awakening clearly shows the scars of the troubles it went through.

Nevertheless, Awakening is an entertaining, disposable and self-aware movie that never tries to be the next ‘scariest movie ever made’.

In this umpteenth episode of the franchise, a family composed by mom, two daughters and a son in an irreversible coma, move to the titular Amityville house and, there, weird shit starts to happen. Above all, it seems that James is regaining consciousness due to the house…

The film benefits from a solid cast, including Jennifer Morrison, Kurtwood Smith, Thomas Mann and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The standout performance, however, is displayed by Cameron Monaghan, who plays the brother and is both threatening and defenceless.

Amityville Awakening 2Unfortunately, though, the lead is played emotionlessly and coldly by Bella Thorn, who seems nothing more than a pleasant on-screen presence to look at. Honestly, that’s a shame, since she’s proven to be a decent actress in the projects she embraced from 2015 on. Also, this movie would have featured some emotionally impactful scenes, if only Thorne didn’t play the dullest among the characters…

The production values of Awakening are surprisingly decent. It’s fair to say that the editing is often off and the colour design doesn’t match from one scene to the other. However, I can overlook all of that for this one time, since the flick went through an endless stream of reshooting.

Yet, the story follows the typical ‘haunted house’ formula and features many unoriginal horror tropes. Nonetheless, all of that is handled in a way that respects the audience (the movie is truthful to itself and never plays cheap tricks), apart from the two dream-sequences that are just plain lazy and irritating.

Furthermore, as I stated previously, Awakening is self-aware and its protagonists often quote or mention the previous instalment in the franchise, including some hilarious commentary on the awfulness of the 2005 Ryan Reynolds’ remake. It was fun.

An aspect I, personally, really enjoyed in the film was the soundtrack: it featured a nice mixture of heavy metal, rock ’n’ roll, alternative versions of the conventional horror scores and so on.

Amityville awakening 3All in all, Amityville: The Awakening is not the worst movie in the franchise and it even features an overall good pacing and quite a few good scares. The acting ranges from rather good to plain dull, but it’s never downright unbearable. In all fairness, I can’t call Awakening a good movie but I’m not regretting having watched it and I think a few people might even like it, especially the die-hard fans of this franchise. Cheers!

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The Dark Avengers recruit another member. Annabelle: Creation – movie review

After watching Annabelle (2014) I had little anticipation for this prequel that fits in The Conjuring universe and revolves around a possessed doll.

However, the direction by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, 2016) and, mostly, an astounding 69% on RottenTomatoes, got me curious and slightly less negative about Annabelle: Creation.

What’s my opinion on it, then?

First, the plot: a group of orphan girls move to the house of Samuel Mullins and his wife, Esther, who, 12 years prior, have lost their beloved daughter Annabelle – killed in a hit and run accident.

Annabelle Creation 2When one of the girls, Janice, a young orphan who suffers from polio, sneaks into a locked room, she finds a creepy doll, unwittingly releasing the demon who begins to terrorise the girls, with a special interest in Janice.

The film is set in the 50s, in an isolated house a few miles away from a small Americana town. Compared to the first Annabelle film, Creation smartly chooses a location and an environment highly suitable for a haunted story.

Furthermore, Sandberg had the clever idea to untie its movie from the awful Annabelle, going for a prequel that guaranteed him more freedom rather than continuing with the ridiculous storyline of the 2014 flick.

Annabelle Creation 1Although driven by young actors, the performances in Creation are compelling overall: Talitha Bateman (Janice) and her best friend Linda (well portrayed by Lulu Wilson) are amazing in their roles. Yet, Sandberg decides to switch the lead between the two girls, making for a fresh storytelling in an otherwise formulaic horror flick.

Don’t worry, though, if you’re looking for the same, comforting bad acting that characterises the majority of horror flicks: Anthony LaPaglia (Samuel Mullins) drags himself around with the same facial expression he had while he was looking for missing people in 160 episodes of Without a Trace.

Besides some excellent performance, nice locations and good camera-work, Annabelle: Creation is as dull as Anthony LaPaglia in his role.

Without spoiling anything, this film doesn’t even have a plot twist: it’s predictable, the jump-scares are obvious (only one, in a staircase scene, got me) and the characters do what you expect them to.

Annabelle Creation 3Yet, Creation tries too hard to fit within The Conjuring universe and, simultaneously, to recreate Insidious (2010). The demon’s victims are all female (alike in The Conjuring), the jump-scares come from loud noises and hideous faces (Insidious), the prevalent colours are different shades of grey (The Conjuring) and the demon is the spit image of Lipstick-Face from Insidious.

The doll is just thrown in the mix, because, let’s be frank, the production company wants to fill up The Conjuring universe with spin-offs about the evil spirits that featured in the two Conjuring movie.

There is even a hint to the Nun in a scene of Creation. I expect Warner Brothers to come up with a Dark Avengers movie in a few years, featuring Annabelle, The Nun and The Crooked Man!

In conclusion, Annabelle: Creation is a massive improvement upon Annabelle. Although even a feature-length film about a dog pooping in the streets would be a better movie than Annabelle.

At the same time, though, Creation falls into all the stereotypical horror clichés we’ve seen tons of times before. It’s an enjoyable film based on a silly premise and unimaginative storytelling that, at the end, leaves you with nothing more than one hour and fifty minutes of mindless entertainment. Cheers!

Annabelle (2014) – movie review

Whit Annabelle coming out soon (the release date in the UK is the 11th of August), I decided to make a step back to the first spinoff of this horror franchise linked to The Conjuring universe.

If you previously read some of my older posts, you might have noticed that Annabelle is mentioned quite a few times in them.

Mostly, I used it as a titular example of soulless flick made on a small budget with the only purpose of milking money out of moviegoers’ pockets – which I talked about in-depth in regards to The Conjuring cinematic universe.

Therefore, I hope you’ll sympathise with me for having made the excruciating effort of sitting through this atrocity against humanity… for the second time.

Annabelle tells the absolutely unneeded and uninteresting story of a possessed doll that, after being cursed by a cultist, haunts the house and lives of John and Mia Form, a newly married couple living in California in the 60s/70s (presumably…).

Annabelle 1Mia is pregnant and, due to her insane passion for creepy-ass dolls, fills the room of her upcoming daughter with these hideous puppets. John, despite being short in money, decides to buy her Annabelle which costs him two months’ worth of rent, ignoring its horrendous appearance and the fact that it would scare every kid in the world to death.

When two cultists (a man and his daughter) break into their house to kill the lovely couple for some unexplained reason, they curse the doll which seems to embody either a demon or the vindictive spirit of the woman. Or both. Who cares?

After witnessing weird paranormal phenomena that jeopardise Mia and her new-born daughter (Leah), the wife decides to throw the doll in the bin and move away, which her husband reluctantly agrees on – despite being stereotypically sceptical and for no reasons unaware of what’s happening.

Anyway, they move to a humongous flat, although not having enough money to pay both bills and buy a hideous doll. However, Annabelle comes back due to her superdoll powers and keeps haunting them until a pointless sacrifice saves the family in one of the most disappointing ending I have ever seen.

Directed by John R. Leonetti, who previously made Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2 (two of the worst movies ever made), Annabelle is deemed to be awful.

The concept it’s based on is laughable to begin with: another killer-doll movie is as about necessary as one revolving around a board game (knock Ouija door for confirmation).  

Annabelle 2Nevertheless, the execution is even worse: this film feels like an endless stream of exposition scenes, filled with boring dialogue between characters as compelling as a potato.

From time to time, jump-scares are thrown in the mix and they look cheap, unfrightening and, overall, silly. Other than a fairly good one, which makes for 10 seconds of watchable stuff out of 96 minutes.

The rest is just generic: the soundtrack, the cinematography, the editing… all of that is made up in the attempt to create some scary moments that will never come.

Sub-plots are thrown in a sequence and never explored again; characters make a statement and retract it in the very next scene; the husband always has to go to (or stay at) work because the director doesn’t know what to do with him.

Furthermore, in this flick universe, there is no space for other human beings than the characters directly involved in the story: streets are empty in broad daylight, buildings look always uninhabited, shops are deserted.

This is Annabelle guys, a shameless attempt to rip off better films and a soulless money-grabbing train wreck that is about as scary as a Smurfs episode. Don’t watch it, ever!

To conclude, I just want to clarify that I decided to review this movie because, despite all the premises, I’m really curious to see Annabelle: Creation for two main reasons.

Firstly, the director openly despised the first Annabelle as a terrible film. Secondly, he proved himself capable of decent filmmaking with Lights Out (2016) and, mostly, a few seriously creepy short movies. Let’s hope Creation will make us forget about its predecessor. Cheers!

The Conjuring Universe and on the ‘universising’ phenomenon

James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013) has been highly appreciated by both critics and general audiences, something quite rare nowadays.

Followed by its likewise good sequel (2016), The Conjuring has set Wan among the best horror directors of all time – as if Saw (2004) wasn’t enough of a prove of the filmmaker’s talent.

The two films about Ed and Lorrain Warren (paranormal investigators active, for real, in the 50s and 60s in the US) have grossed an overall profit of 578.3 million of dollars (!), turning them into two of the most profitable movies in cinema history.

Conjuring universe 3It was inevitable that production companies would have started a race to earn the rights for sequels, spin-offs and so on. The Warner Bros. Pictures has, so, gave the authorisation for Annabelle (2014), its sequel Annabelle: Creation (August, 11th 2017), The Nun (2018), The Crooked Man (TBA) and The Conjuring 3 (TBA) to be produced and released.

Obviously, Annabelle, the movie, played a crucial role in this trend, since it grossed over $256 million against its $6.5 million production budget. Although, contrarily to The Conjuring films, nearly none who’s seen it thought it was a decent movie.

conjuring-cinematic-universePanned by critics and regular moviegoers, Annabelle is the archetype of production companies’ philosophy: they don’t care about providing people with quality cinema, they just crave for their money. Why would anyone appreciate the trite and tiresome attempt to a movie based on a coursed puppet and filled with horror clichés?

But, at the same time, why people went happily and jauntily to the cinemas just to be let down, big time? The answer is rather simple: audiences expected the same stuff they’ve been struck by in The Conjuring, even though Annabelle had a different director and, mostly, a pointless (if not entirely non-existent) plot, let alone a story-line.

Again, production companies don’t care what food they feed up audiences with. They just want to milk more money out of their pockets, with the minimum effort, when that’s possible.

The side effect of this trend – other than unsatisfying moviegoers and giving them loads of mediocre films – is even scarier. Indeed, for production companies is much easier and safer to connect poor quality products to better and more successful ones, linking them to the same world. In other words, it’s much less risky to fill up a pre-existent universe than trying un-walked (and, therefore, original) patterns.

Conjuring universe 1Hopefully I’m totally wrong and I’ll be retracting my statements by then, but I’ve got the strong belief that The Nun and The Crooked Man will be absolute flops. The latter, in particular, picks up the worst character of the entire Conjuring Universe, a monster created purely out of CGI that inspired more laughs than frights.

Similarly, The Conjuring 3 will likely retrace the footprints of its predecessors. Which means it’s very susceptible to be boring and uninteresting.

That of ‘universising’ or ‘universisation’, up to you (I don’t mean to show off by creating new words, so sorry in advance if I sound posh), is an ongoing threat for contemporary cinema, which just happened to affect the horror genre lately.

Indeed, this trend kicked off already with the Marvel and DC Universe (Avengers and siblings, Justice League and company) and Universal’s Dark Universe (Dracula Untold and The Mummy).

It’s successful because it’s economically rewarding. Nothing more, nothing less. For instance, Universal’s Dark Universe has been largely deemed as laughable, whereas the DC Universe has gathered mixed reactions.

Conjuring universe 4The Marvel Universe appears to be the only one unanimously perceived as good. However, if you stop for one second and think about it, all the Marvel films have the  same storytelling, execution and ending – with a few honourable exceptions (Deadpool, Guardian of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier), this cinematic universe is, basically, a giant scheme that repeats itself over and over again. Movie after movie, seamlessly.

In regards to the horror genre, this trend tends to be more even more dangerous, since it affects a specific cinema branch, the quality of which is already put in peril by the endless series of soulless remakes and reboots.

Conjuring universe 5.gifThe implicit risk of creating a horror universe filled with unappealing and mediocre films is that quality flicks – which might benefit from smaller anticipations and, therefore, less advertising – will be liable to fly under the radars. This is already happening: great independent films such as The Eyes of my Mother and The Evil Within are being outrageously overlooked by mass audiences, who are just waiting for Annabelle: Creation and Insidious 4 to come out.

I want to make clear that I don’t blame James Wan, even in the slightest, for this disease (yes, that’s what I call it). If anything, Wan, with his immense talent has strengthened, throughout the years, the mainstream horror cinema thanks to his most famous motion pictures.

Unfortunately, though, his films have unintentionally pushed production companies to exploit said success in the easiest way possible, instead of taking them as an inspiration to revitalise on a large scale a genre that have seen a shortage of quality products in the 2000s – in addition, the few recent great horror movies often came from ‘abroad’ (i.e. not from the United States and Hollywood).

I know this post might seem a rent against mainstream production companies and, thus, mainstream horror cinema. Instead, I hope it may serve as food for thoughts for horror (and cinema) maniacs, like me, who want to sit through fulfilling experiences rather than disposable entertainment. Cheers!