Con­jur­ing up a doll’s house of hor­rors

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY


Di­rected by David F Sand­berg Star­ring Stephanie Sig­man, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia, Mi­randa Otto Cert 16, gen re­lease, 109mins

Sa­muel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) is a church-go­ing, doll-mak­ing, de­voted dad who lives in a pala­tial, re­mote, haunt­ing-ready home with his wife Es­ther (Mi­randa Otto) and beloved daugh­ter Bee (Sa­mara Lee) un­til the lat­ter is killed in an au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent. Twelve years later – the skirt hems sug­gest late 1950s or early 1960s – Sa­muel takes in a group of or­phaned girls and their su­per­vi­sor Sis­ter Char­lotte (Stephanie Sig­man), a de­cid­edly cool nun who ap­pears to have orig­i­nated from the Or­der of Foxy Brown.

Her charges in­clude plucky Janice ( Hart of Dixie’s Talitha Bateman), who, hav­ing been struck by po­lio, may avail of the world’s spook­i­est chair­lift to bring her to the up­stairs bed­room in­con­ve­niently lo­cated be­side “The Locked Bed­room That May Never Be Opened”. Ex­cept she does open it. And finds, well, the clue is in the ti­tle.

Down­stairs, Es­ther never leaves her room, but in­stead sum­mons her hus­band with a bell. She is glimpsed briefly by one of the girls, wear­ing what looks like a doll’s face. There are crawlspaces aplenty and a dumb-waiter that keeps bang­ing. Out­side, there’s a deep well and a scare­crow lurk­ing in Sa­muel’s former work­shop.

Roller­skate dol­lies

Lights Out di­rec­tor David F Sand­berg honed his skills with roller­skate dol­lies and no-bud­get shorts. His im­pec­ca­ble horror tim­ing makes for ter­rific and ef­fec­tive dread. Jump scares are with­held and ra­tioned with sci­en­tific pre­ci­sion. Nurs­ery items are not overused.

Un­hap­pily, the film stut­ters once the mon­ster is re­vealed in all his de­monic CG dull­ness. The rules be­come im­pos­si­ble to de­ci­pher: so the de­mon has do­min­ion over time and space but I can a shut a door on it?

Still, for the first two acts, while Annabelle: Cre­ation con­cerns it­self with lit­tle girls check­ing un­der beds and in­ves­ti­gat­ing things that go bump in the night, it’s equal to James Wan’s Con­jur­ing films. We await Mr Sand­berg’s Shazam – the sev­enth DC Ex­tended Uni­verse film – with in­ter­est.

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