Movie Review: Ignore the R Rating, ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ is a Sweet Family-Friendly Tale of Kids on Their Own Learning How to Fight Off the Monsters

1 Comment

CREDIT: Warner Bros./YouTube

Starring: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Michael Cimino

Director: Gary Dauberman

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: R for PG-13 Level Blood and Terror

Release Date: June 26, 2019

One of the best (if not THE best) qualities of horror movies is that slambang moment of ultimate catharsis. It can come in the form of releasing the death grip on your armrest, or finally breathing a sigh of relief, but it just as often can be a huge burst of laughter. Partly that’s because screaming and laughing are similar reactions, sometimes it’s because the movie is unintentionally hilarious, and other times it’s because the plot takes a break for some comedy. In the case of Annabelle Comes Home, it’s definitely the latter, as a dorky teenage pizza delivery dude assures a not-quite-as-dorky lovestruck teenage fellow that the only effective way to “woo” girls is “rock ‘n’ roll.” These two clearly do not have much romantic experience, and they have no idea about the hell-creatures in their midst, thus raising the stakes of their guilelessness but never making them objects of ridicule.

That whole vibe of kids figuring it out on their own and everything working out okay infuses the entirety of Annabelle Comes Home, the third in the creepy doll series and eighth in the larger Conjuring universe. Top dog demon hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) play their biggest role yet in any non-flagship entry in this franchise, but they still mostly step aside, serving basically as a bookend and framing device. They head out of town, leaving their pre-teen daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the care of teenage babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) with Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) tagging along for the girl time.

With most of its main characters under the age of twenty, this is accordingly the most kid-friendly entry in the series, though it is rated R, like all other Conjuring films and their spin-offs. But that has often been undeserved, and it is especially outrageous here, as there is no profanity, all the romance is remarkably chaste, and all the gore is too stylized to be disturbingly explicit. In fact, the horror franchise that Annabelle most resembles besides its own is the kid-targeted Goosebumps (Iseman was one of the leads of last year’s Goosebumps 2, incidentally enough). Both feature kids accidentally unleashing a bunch of monsters and then managing to subdue them as they discover the guile they had within themselves the whole time. Annabelle is trippier and more twisted than Goosebumps, sure, but like Goosebumps, you’re never truly worried that the kids are going to be ripped apart limb by limb.

In between fighting off the spooks, the girls while away the night the way kids do when they’re on their own: playing board games, baking a cake, listening to the music of the day (in this case, Badfinger’s “Day After Day”). One underappreciated element of how the Conjuring Universe has improved the state of horror is its infusion of sweetness into the genre, especially when the Warrens are around. Defeating the evil ghosts is only worthwhile when you have loving family and friends to share the moment with and to remind you that there are nice ghosts, too.

Annabelle Comes Home is Recommended If You Like: Goosebumps, Earnest Teen Romances, The silent spaces between the scares

Grade: 3 out of 5 Werewolf Demons

Movie Review: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ Puts Mexican Folklore to Some Scary Good Use

1 Comment

CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velásquez, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Roman Christou, Marisol Ramirez, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tony Amendola

Director: Michael Chaves

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for Intense Horror Makeup, Drowning, Skin Burns, and Some Gunshots

Release Date: April 19, 2019

It’s generally promising when a horror movie grounds itself in some well-crafted folklore, and The Curse of La Llorona offers a bit of an emotional doozy. Originating in Mexico, the tale of La Llorona (“The Weeping Woman” in English) is of a mother who drowned her two sons after becoming enslaved by a blind rage from discovering her husband with another woman. She now lurks the spirit world in a white gown, taking other children as her own and often drowning them as well. A notice posted by the studio outside the theater assured me that La Llorona is indeed somewhere out in the real world. You don’t have to believe in ghosts to accept that as effective showmanship. This is a monster with a formidable motivation, enough to make you go, “Well, what are we going to do if she targets us?”

The standoff comes to Linda Cardellini as a widowed mother working as a social worker in 1973 Los Angeles. She first encounters La Llorona through her work with children living in unsafe homes. If you want to, you can dig into the subtext about the entanglement of domestic abuse and folklore. But this film is more about the surface thrills of discovering just how the boogeyman will pop up when someone closes a bathroom cabinet or opens up an umbrella. If you’re looking for camera tricks that say “Boo!”, La Llorona will scratch that itch. It also excels in some surprisingly goofy tension-breaking, especially when Raymond Cruz (Tuco of Breaking Bad) shows up as an ex-priest mystic man to exorcise some evil spirits by rubbing eggs all over the house. Weirdly enough, that moment makes sense in context. Bottom line: La Llorona efficiently pulls off its weirder-than-expected approach with a confident use of the standard horror toolkit.

The Curse of La Llorona is Recommended If You Like: Mama, Annabelle, The power of the crucifix

Grade: 3 out of 5 White Gowns

This Is a Movie Review: Annabelle: Creation

Leave a comment

Annabelle: Creation really takes a while to ramp up the intensity. Like, at least an hour, maybe even an hour-fifteen, into its running time, at which point it finally starts ripping limbs and tearing faces apart enough to (barely) justify its R rating. That is kind of crazy given the relentless standard set by the previous Conjuring/Annabelle films. In the prelude, there are a lot of lingering close-ups and light/dark interplay in which you have plenty of time to uncover the agents of evil lurking in the fuzzy shadows. Ultimately, Creation is most valuable for how it expands the mythology, favoring a harmonically mind-bending approach that calls to mind the latter-day Paranormal Activity sequels.

I give Annabelle: Creation 5 Broken Fingers Around a Cross in Every Frame.