Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend the world premiere screening of Annabelle: Creation, the prequel to the spinoff of the The Conjuring universe, which also references the upcoming The Nun. Make sense?

The premiere was held at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel (where I also got to see a 40th anniversary screening of Carrie), a gorgeous old movie palace with an elaborate lobby (complete with bar), vintage restrooms, and seats from an era when Americans were a little less wide. I love any opportunity to see a film outside of the everyday multiplex, and this venue was a treat unto itself!

The movie itself was pretty good, and certainly a step above the first and, frankly, forgettable Annabelle. Many years ago, a dollmaker Samuel Mullins and his wife Esther lost their daughter Annabelle in a horrible accident. Flash-forward a few years, and Sister Charlotte accompanies a group of orphan girls to move into the Mullins’ farmhouse. It doesn’t take long for doors to slam on their own or for the titular Annabelle (a doll so cartoonishly scary, she would never ever pass for children’s toy) to pop up in unexpected places. Things escalate quickly, as one of the girls becomes possessed, and it is discovered the Mullins are hiding a terrible secret.

Story seems to be the least concerning element in most modern horror films, as Annabelle: Creation delivers non-stop jump moments ranging from genuinely chilling to laughably preposterous. What makes this one stand out is director David F. Sandberg, who clearly brings his Lights Out sensibilities with more creative and interesting scare elements. The lighting is used very powerfully to heighten and sensationalize the mood, and even works in antitraditional ways. In one scene, a girl is violently pulled through the front yard in broad daylight. The guest next to me yelled, “Aw shit! It’s in daylight now?”

The audience, I fully concede, was one of the best parts of this screening. I guarantee I would not have had as much fun with this movie watching it at home, alone. Everyone screamed and laughed at just the right moments, and shouted at the screen after girl after girl cluelessly wandered into the haunted bedroom.

As silly as the script was, I was very impressed by the girls’ acting, particularly the two leads Janice (Talitha Bateman, balancing good Janice and possessed-by-demons Janice) and Linda (Lulu Wilson, who was terrorized just months ago in Ouija: Origin of Evil). These two young talents were put through numerous physically demanding scenes, spewing intense emotions, and all the while portraying dimensional, believable (given the circumstances) characters.

Q&A with director and cast

Annabelle: Creation is not the challenging moral tale of It Comes by Night, and does not pack the unsettling scares of The Witch. But as more “traditional” horror for a mainstream audience goes, it’s a quality effort heightened by strong acting.

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The Circle (2017)

While very, very far from perfect, The Circle is a provocative, timely thriller addressing connection and community in the age of social media.

Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Mae Holland, a young woman who joins the customer support team at The Circle, a Silicon Valley tech giant encompassing social media, software, digital products, and more. The company is led by Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), a black turtleneck-sporting charismatic figure who inspires his company, and the world, to empower themselves through his technology.

At its best, The Circle tackles these issues in a thoughtful and complicated way. The Circle develops mini cameras, in a proud call for transparency worldwide: exposing crimes of war, world hunger, as well as everyday sharing and providing insight into one’s personal life. The potential, and threat, of such technology is a fascinating topic on its own, and the film gives these a good shake.

The casting of Emma Watson is even more surprising, and impressive, in this regard. In real life, she is outspokenly political, as a proud feminist and UN Goodwill Ambassador, so it’s especially fun to see her take on such a twisted stance of over-sharing and the shedding of privacy and liberty.

About halfway through, the story does plunge into silly territory, with a disappointing performance by Ellar Coltrane (of Boyhood fame) and not nearly enough John Boyega. As things escalate, the situation is left pretty dire, and even the ending is murky and unclear.

My friend and I left the movie with drastically different ideas about what happened, and what Mae was up to all along. But as silly as things get, any film that provokes discussion and thought, about as toxic a topic as privacy in the digital age, must be working correctly on some wavelength. This is by no means one of the year’s best, but is a timely and (sometimes) intelligent commentary on our online community.