Dog’s Movie House: “Annabelle: Creation” Terrifying, “Dark Tower” Terrifyingly Bad!
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
Horror, like comedy, is a very subjective genre. Every moviegoer has something different that trips their “fear” switch. For me, it’s more about what’s not visible onscreen than overt displays of violence and gore. For that reason, the various films in The Conjuring franchise are some of the creepiest I’ve ever seen. With the exception of the very disappointing “Annabelle” I’ve very much enjoyed the James Wan- led franchise and “Annabelle: Creation” is right up there with some of the best horror films in recent memory. The same cannot be said for the long-awaited cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s legendary Dark Tower series. “The Dark Tower” is a overly brief, thematic mess that pays only lip service to King’s sprawling fantasy saga. Non fans of the books will be mildly entertained, but King devotees will either walk out or throw their popcorn at the movie screen.
Let’s get started with the good news, shall we? “Annabelle: Creation” is a lot like “Ouija: Origin Of Evil” in that the second film in the series is not only much better than its predecessor, but that each film goes back a few decades to explore the origins of the evil doll so memorably brought to life in the opening scenes of “The Conjuring.” This film begins with a couple during the late 1940’s. Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) live in the country with their lovely daughter Bee (Samara Lee). Samuel is a doll maker and the creator of the limited edition Annabelle dolls, the first of which is given to Bee. Their quiet existence is shattered when a horrible accident takes the life of their baby girl.
The two live in seclusion until twelve years later when the Mullins open their home to an orphanage led by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and a group of six orphans. At first the house seems like a wonderful place, with plenty of space and Samuel seems like a friendly, if a tad quiet, caretaker. His wife is bedridden and very rarely ever seen. Still it feels like home to these girls, especially the youngest, best friends Janice (Tabitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson). But soon an evil force starts spreading throughout the house, attracted to Janice, a polio sufferer who has trouble getting around and as soon as Annabelle is unearthed, the demon controlling her is on the hunt for new victims. Now it’s a race for survival against an evil who’s hunger is insatiable.
Credit goes to David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out”) for crafting some terrific set pieces that put the audience on edge. He relies on jump scare more than James Wan, but in this case the scares are of the earned variety. Gary Dauberman’s script is more interested in story than characterization, but the situation is involving enough to give you a vested interest in the players, even if some of them are thinly drawn.
It helps that Sandberg gets very good performances of his two young leads. Bateman is wonderful as Janice, both as the scared little girl and later, the possessed demon capable of horrible things. Lulu Wilson (so good in the most recent Ouija movie as said possessed girl) is equally good as Janice’s best friend. The other characters are sketches but the actors do the best they can. LaPaglia, in particular, is very good as a father trying to put his life together in the face of a terrible tragedy. Unfortunately Miranda Otto is wasted as the mother whose primary purpose is to provide backstory at the appropriate time. It does help that the backstory is entertaining, but Otto is too good to be relegated to such a small role.
Overall though, “Annabelle: Creation” is a fine addition to the “Conjuring” universe and a damned scary film in its own right. 4 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkomter!
The same cannot be said for “The Dark Tower” which is a tough film for me to review as I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s huge fantasy opus. As I watched the film I tried to justify its existence and had a hard time doing so. The film seems more interested in serving as an incorrect Cliff’s Notes version of the story of Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last Gunslinger determined to protect the legendary Dark Tower from the forces of evil.
The first misstep the film makes is in making this the story of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), the boy who becomes a surrogate son to Roland, rather than the story of Roland, which is the focus of the books. Jake has visions of the Tower, the evil Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey) and the gunslinger. Being hunted by the Man In Black’s minions, Jake escapes through a portal to the decrepit Midworld where he meats Roland and starts on a journey that will hopefully keep the Tower from being destroyed.
Fans of the books will be dismayed by the haphazard nature of the narrative. Screenwriters Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen and director Nikolaj Arcel place elements of all seven books into a cinematic blender hit “frappe.” You have elements from the final book out of context with the rest of the film. The movie features the Taheen, the Breakers, the Long Pig restaurant, the character of Sayre (Jackie Earle Haley) all serving at the behest of the Man In Black who is more like an all powerful god in the film rather than simply a test for Roland in the books. It’s maddening to watch this mishmash of a story because it robs the film of any dramatic weight.
The other mistake is that the movie twists Roland’s purpose from the book, making his story a mission of revenge against the Man In Black for killing his father (Dennis Haysbert). Fans of the book know that Roland’s quest for the Tower is his defining trait and that a great part of his journey is learning to be a functional human being. By having him spend the majority of the movie with revenge as his base motivation pretty much betrays everything Roland stands for. It actually might have been a good idea if the filmmakers had taken the time to explore the issue, but the gunslinger’s motivation is rushed just like everything else in this film.
Now much has been made of casting Elba as Roland. (In the books, Roland is white. . .Elba is black). I can tell you that Elba is not a problem. He understands the stoicism of Roland even if the script does not. Given a better film I think Elba would have been terrific as Roland. As it stands he is merely serviceable. Taylor is actually quite good as Jake, and the scenes featuring him and Elba are among the best in the movie. McConaughey is potentially a terrific man in black, but the script makes him more of an all-powerful wizard with the mentality of an oily used car salesman. McConaughey gives it his all, but the script gives him no place to go. All of the other characters merely make appearances in this paper-thin tale.
The action is simply adequate and comes way too late in the film to be very memorable. In fact, the less-than ninety minute running time feels much longer. All of the Easter Eggs and King references can’t disguise the fact that “The Dark Tower” is a jumbled, incoherent disservice to a brilliant story. Let’s hope plans for a television series turns out better than this misfire. 1/2 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!