Sunday, April 12, 2015

Three Films Make A Post: He Was On the Side of Law and Order. He Was On the Side of Crime and Chaos. He Was On Any Side That Would Have Him.

Annabelle (2014): If you’re the potential audience for John R. Leonetti’s prequel to The Conjuring, you must have been burning to learn the origin story of that film’s evil doll. Here it is, and it’s all your fault, potential audience for Annabelle. The tragic thing, as with so many of these new mainstream horror films, is that this really isn’t a bad film as much as one that’s utterly lacking in personality and anything you might want to call an interesting idea. While most of what we see here is on a high technical level, my main impression while watching was a feeling of boredom, as if I had seen every fright scene here before in films that did the difficult work of making these scenes more than just short shocks, giving them meaning, resonance, or personality. But whenever the opportunity arises to put forth something more interesting than “boo!” and “waaa, demons!” (turns out “demons!” does not an interesting mythology make) Annabelle comes up with absolutely nothing, having its non-entities of main characters go through meaningless motions we all have seen before. In other words, there’s an absence here where a good – or even a more interesting mediocre – film carries stuff like themes and ideas, and little personality to make up for it.

Jessabelle (2014): In most aspects, Kevin Greutert’s Southern Gothic ghost story is much superior to Annabelle. Its main character (as played by Sarah Snook) has an actual personality, it takes place in a place and time that feels real enough, and it does make use of these mildly advanced elements of the filmmaking art like a theme, a coherent visual style. Why, most probably it even has an idea what kind of story it wants to tell.

Unfortunately, at least for me all these pleasant and worthwhile elements are completely let down by a supernatural element that is again just as generic as all get out, with none of the supernatural shenanigans an organic part of the film’s thematic concerns but the usual series of haunted appliances, a screaming woman ghost and so on. None of them feels like a stringent part of the film they appear in and the story its telling, and to my eyes are completely interchangeable with all other ghostly shenanigans in all other mainstream horror movies about ghosts. This leaves the rest of the film without the glue it needs to keep together as a whole. Things aren’t improved by a rather crappy ending either, but then, I’ve gotten so used to those, I’d probably still be positively surprised by Jessabelle if it had only understood that hauntings need to be specific and individual things or they lose all meaning.

Ouija (2014): Speaking of recent horror films that aren’t great, here’s Stiles White’s ultra-generic attempt at the old ouija board horror tale, a film I find only worth mentioning because it manages to avoid jump scare overkill as well as yet still does not contain a single memorable moment. Even if you can live with nothing going on intellectually under its hood at all (in fact, it feels as if the film is going out of its way to contain nothing anybody could confuse for a thought or – god help us! – an idea), there’s also the little problem that there’s really nothing creepy, atmospheric or disturbing about it. Which is a wee bit of a problem in a horror film, or so I’ve heard.

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