Catching Up on the First Half of the Year – Part 2: Annabelle Comes Home, Hellboy, and More

While these movies may not have been must-see flicks, some of have snuck into our hearts this year. Others, well… not so much. Here are some movies that could be worth a watch.

Annabelle Comes Home

Serving as a backdoor sequel to The Conjuring 2 and AnnabelleAnnabelle Comes Home works as a studio horror film with a tinge of nostalgia thrown in for good measure. Rather than focus on Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), the story shines a light on their daughter Judy (McKenna Grace). What makes Annabelle Comes Home such an effective late-night horror flick comes rooted in the cases the Warrens investigated. Rather than focus on a singular, creepy doll, Annabelle pulls the strings on a dozen or so creatures that haunt the Warren’s house. This allows for a diversity of scares that take place throughout the day and night, culminating in some truly spine-chilling moments.

The other aspect that helps Annabelle Comes Home stand out from the lackluster horror crop in 2019 is the period setting. The costume and production design help sell the experience of being trapped in a haunted house. While it is not Victorian (like some Guillermo Del Toro films), the 1970s gives the audience enough distance from cordless phones and the internet to make it work. At times the movie revels in its setting, playing up the era for all it can. This helps keep the audience on its toes.

At times the movie falters thanks to subpar special effects. Some CGI feels extremely out of place when compared to the practical effects used throughout the film. A werewolf style creature feels like it comes from Goosebumps instead of the world established in previous Conjuring films. Having some of these creatures present within the movie does take away from the overall effectiveness of the film, but only a little. For studio horror looking to stay in the PG-13 range, this one hits the jackpot, and it will remain a fun little flick to return to in the future.

GRADE: ()

Hellboy

What a total miss. After years with the Guillermo Del Toro version remaining a high watermark in comic book cinema, this one completely underwhelms. The makeup looks bad, David Harbour can’t emote one bit under all the makeup, and the effects kind of suck. Worst of all, the story is just nonsense. The pacing is far too quick, yet the movie’s runtime comes in over two hours. The movie tries to pack in too much and overcomplicates a fairly straightforward story in the process. Somehow the movie wastes Ian McShane in a role that he should have knocked out of the park. Maybe it is unfair to compare, but it’s impossible to ignore the superiority of the 2004 film in every way.

There are few positives to draw from in the new edition. The one that some may be on board with was the creation of Baba Yaga. The unfortunate part? They mispronounce the way the name every time she is mentioned. It seems like a small and trite issue to have with the film, but it speaks to the overall quality. Everything feels rushed. They jumped into the project, chose to roll with the takes they had and did not really look back. As a result, nothing about the film feels like it wants to reach the heights of its predecessor.

It’s okay for everyone involved though. I’ve already mostly forgotten the film’s existence. It’s just a shame for Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim, who actually both deliver interesting performances. Director Neil Marshall, former Game of Thrones director and popularized by The Descentcannot seem to get his feature film career on track. Marshall may find more luck back in the world of television. It’s a shame, but if this outing is any indication of what he’s going to put out, maybe he needs to stay in that medium.

GRADE: ()

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Another movie that I’ve mostly forgotten was once an anticipated film for me. Zac Efron has proved on several occasions that he’s a more complete actor than the Disney channel allowed him to be. The guy can sing and dance, but can also show range. He was particularly good as a borderline sociopath in Neighbors from 2014 opposite Seth Rogen. Unfortunately, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile does little to explore the real complexities of a serial killer as renowned as Ted Bundy. Giving him the ability to flex his dramatic muscles was not a bad choice, and Efron shows up to play in most of his scenes. While Efron takes charge, the rest of the film feels as if it’s struggling to catch up.

The one thing the film does well is showcase why Lily Collins’ Liz would have fallen for Bundy in the first place. Their first few scenes together are electric, and as a single mother, you can understand the draw. However, the movie stops showing these sequences after a while and tries to move on to the darker issues at hand. Rather than play out Bundy’s clear savagery, we’re treated to montages of him escaping prison and being captured again. These make for some interesting stories, but the problem with telling a Bundy story is that we already know the end of the story. Making him a semi-heroic figure, one that is hell-bent on escape might have worked in a low-profile case. Yet Bundy’s infamy stretches beyond true-crime fans and has been a subject of public lore for years. Director Joe Berlinger actually told the Bundy story extremely well earlier this year, with Conversations with a Killer on Netflix. That format, a four-part documentary series on Bundy, was far more captivating than the condensed narrative story.

GRADE: (½)

Crawl (by Aaron LeBlanc)

Crawl is simple – unabashedly so. Two people are stuck in a basement. It’s flooding and will be underwater in an hour. There’s an alligator guarding the only exit. That’s it. A single set piece, two characters, a dog, and some gators. Yet Alexander Aja is able to use this simplicity to sharpen the plot and create an incredibly engrossing film.

Kaya Scodelario stars as Haley Keller, a once decorated swimming star struggling to stay afloat at The University of Florida’s highly coveted swim team. She now finds herself trapped in a basement fighting for her life. With her father and ex-coach Dave (Barry Pepper) by her side, they try to escape the flooded basement while healing old familial wounds from years past. Nothing like a couple of gators to patch up a rocky father-daughter relationship. But that’s what makes this work. Rather than a repetitive gator-filled gorefest, Aja weaves in strong character development that keeps us on the hook for the entire ride. We quickly learn to love these characters and seeing them in mortal danger keeps us on the edge of our seats. I’d like to note that adding a dog into the mix is a little unfair because I can’t think of anyone who’s not 100% sold on getting that dog out alive.

While the characters are what makes the movie special, people aren’t going to Crawl to see a father-daughter feel-good movie. The price of admission comes from those cold-blooded death lizards. While the body count may be low for some fans of the genre, each death is unique and uses the gators in fun and interesting ways. There is quite a bit of misdirection that keeps the kills fresh and the audience on their toes

GRADE: ()

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