Description from Netflix:
Based on true events, this spine-chiller tells the story of a
England family who begins having encounters with spirits in their
farmhouse, and the paranormal experts who help them do battle with the supernatural
Notable actors: Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
It took me a month to finally get out to see this movie. Because of that, the hype had reached insane levels. It's currently sitting at 86% at Rotten Tomatoes, which is almost unheard of for a horror movie.
Combine that hype with the pre-release marketing machine ("rated R for being toooooo scary"), and I went into this movie with a cynic's heart and a critical eye.
I hated the opening with Annabelle, the creepy doll (I assume she was called Annabelle because she was shaped like a...she's the belle of the ball). Hated it. (I thought it was as nose as the Anne on plain’s face.) I could see what they were doing: using a creepy scene to set up the rest of the movie. But, for me, it didn't really work. I feel like the "creepy inanimate object" trope has run its course in horror. It no longer scares me. The implication of what was going on with the doll was a cool idea (demon trying to enter our world through a conduit), but the entire opening wasn't really creepy for me, no matter how hard they tried to make it so.
I bet she sings a killer version of "We Three Kings"
Plus, I kind of felt like Wan was nudging me in the ribs. "Hey. Remember how I directed Saw and Dead Silence with those dolls? You remember that? Wasn't that awesome?" And I never want anyone reminding me that Dead Silence exists. There were also a few very Wan-like moments involving pale, ghostly figures turning their heads slowly and opening their mouths wide. But, since this was a James Wan joint, I could pretty much count on at least one of these scenes showing up, and it was pretty easy to see it coming.
Beyond that, this opening scene wasn't so much a set-up as it was a blueprint for how the rest of the movie would play out.
And, really, that was my problem with a lot of this movie. A lot of the major plot points are telegraphed pretty early on. They linger on certain objects for too long, or have a conversation about the object. They have all these tiny little exposition scenes throughout the movie, the sole purpose of which seems to be to tell us what is going to happen. The actors did everything short of breaking the fourth wall to spell out exactly how future scenes would play out.
"And now for the end of the movie..."
Another huge problem had less to do with the movie itself, and more to do with the trailers. They had a fantastic set-up to a great jump scare ("hide and clap"), but it was ruined because of the trailers. That scene was in every trailer I saw. Had I not seen the trailer, that scene probably would've had me jumping out of my seat. But, since I knew it was coming, it was just kind of boring. In fact, the entire 5 minutes leading up to that point were kind of boring, because I already knew how it was going to end.
I suppose this is partially my fault. When I see a trailer for a new horror movie pop up, I should just close my eyes and block it out. But that's not easy to do. Still, I may go this route for You're Next. That seems like it could be a solid movie with some good scares. At this point, all I know is that there is a pig head involved. It may just be a remake of Motel Hell. I don't know. I haven't looked into it.
Look at that guy. Always standing and walking.
I have also found myself tiring of these "house isn't haunted, the people are haunted" type of movies. For it being a somewhat recent development (the first movie I remember seeing like this was Paranormal Activity) a lot of movies seem to be jumping on this train. On some level, I understand it. If the house is haunted, the easy fix is "just move somewhere else". (The Lutz's made their grand escape on a rickety motorboat.)
But, if it's the person who is haunted, there's no easy fix. You can't run. You have to try to beat it. It raises the stakes for everyone involved. Essentially, these filmmakers have combined haunted house movies and possession movies.
Again, this isn't a bad idea, and I have really liked some of these movies. But, by this point, it seems a bit overused and predictable. Maybe someone will come along and make a movie that reenergizes this particular subgenre. But this is not that movie.
That's it for the negative stuff. Now for the positive.
There was a pretty good feeling of dread throughout. Even though I could see where the story was going, I still had the feeling that something was just around the corner. That's not easy to sustain throughout the course of a movie, but Wan did that pretty well here.
There were also a couple of really good scares. There was one in particular that really seemed to come out of nowhere. It was really scary and extremely well done. There were also a number of moments that, while not overly scary, still had me more than a little creeped out (there was a fantastic scene involving the wardrobe that pulled this off really well).
For the most part, I liked the actors involved. They didn't necessarily raise the movie to another level, but they all played their characters well enough. It was well-acted, even if some of the characters felt like they were lacking any substance (I love Ron Livingston as much - or more - than the next guy, but there was hardly anything behind his character).
"This is kind of weird, but it's like you almost miss that possession."
Overall, I enjoyed this movie, but I didn't love it as much as everyone else seemed to. It was a pretty good haunted house/person movie that kept me entertained the entire time (opening 5 minutes excluded). I felt like I was a bit more critical than normal going into this one because of all the hype it received. If I went into it with no expectations, I'm sure I would have loved it. As it was, it was a solid movie that I liked, but didn't love.
This is a pick for Final Girl's Film Club. Watch it, then head over to her blog to see what she (and others) have to say about this.