For a review of “The Glass Castle,”
Writer- director Destin Daniel Cretton has built a body of work that takes a magnifying glass to the individual surviving within a group, weaving portraits of stealth emotional impact.
In his breakout film “Short Term 12,” which launched Brie Larson and Lakeith Stanfield into their respective stardoms, Cretton examined the ecosystem of humans living and working in a long- term foster care facility. His third feature, an adaptation of Jeanette Walls’ blockbuster memoir, “The Glass Castle,” examines the tale of a similarly disadvantaged group.
“The Glass Castle,” published in 2005, written by former New York magazine columnist Walls, chronicles her unconventional and destitute childhood. She and her siblings were shepherded around the country by her parents, a pair of dysfunctional dreamers, before the family landed for a longer spell in her father Rex’s hometown of Welch, West Virginia. Cretton, who adapted the book for the screen with Andrew Lanham, shakes up the structure, interspersing childhood flashbacks with Jeanette ( Brie Larson) in 1989, struggling to balance her life as a big city writer and accept her family.
Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts take on the roles of Rex and mom Rose Mary. Harrelson pours himself fully into the role of the charismatic and manipulative trickster Rex; he’s amanwho dreamed bigger than anything, but never escaped his personal demons. Watts is a manic, passionate artist who perhaps shouldn’t have been a mother, her dedication to her work resulting in negligence toward her children.
Walls’ memoir is powerful in its overwhelming, unrelenting repetition of the highs and lows of her childhood — a roller coaster she can’t get off. An adaptation would always have had to cherry pick the most illustrative parts, but her story here feels compressed or picked over.
Its vastness is almost too much for Cretton to dig in on the kind of specific individual moments where he excels at wringing out poignancy. There are a few scenes that he hits out of the park, which are given time to breathe, especially one in which a drunken Rex, having disappeared for a whole day after promising to bring food home to his hungry children, coaches a weeping, quivering young Jeannette ( Ella Anderson) into sewing up a wound in his arm. Similarly stark is a scene of a harrowing swimming lesson.
Due to the Herculean task of adaptation, “The Glass Castle” lacks the emotional potency of Cretton’s earlier work, and the unflinching detail of Wall’s memoir. It almost feels as though his delicate subtlety doesn’t quite fit this material.
Larson, who singularly expresses a kind of repressed ferocity, is only let off the leash sparingly, reined in by her character’s tightly pulled hair and fancy airs. Her younger counterpart, Anderson, proves to be the most compelling iteration of Jeanette, at her most raw and trusting of her father’s wiles, before she learns to close off and protect herself from his manipulations.
Eventually, “The Glass Castle” comes into focus. Its message is universal. Our families may be horribly flawed. Our parents might be toxic andmake horrible, dangerous mistakes. But there is no greater self- acceptance than fully accepting who you are, where you come from, and what made you.
For Jeannette Walls, that is a pair of artists and dreamers, hillbillies and drunks, and a close- knit group of siblings who survived against all odds, compressing coal into diamonds.
“The Glass Castle,” a Lionsgate release is rated PG- 13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some language and smoking. Running time: 127 minutes.
What is it about dolls that is so scary? Just the sight of a loose doll eyeball or a leg, separated from its corporeal context, can send a shiver down the spine. Dolls are so easily, effectively creepy that the tossed off prologue of “The Conjuring” generated a breakout star. Now, the evil porcelain doll Annabelle has a franchise of her own, with “Annabelle,” and the latest, “Annabelle: Creation,” a prequel of a prequel that director David F. Sandberg ably spins into a satisfyingly spooky origin story.
Sandberg made a bit of a sensation last year with his clever horror debut, “Lights Out,” and his command of cinematography, lighting, production design and sound makes “Annabelle: Creation” a fine heir to the legacy of “The Conjuring” and “The Conjuring 2” auteur James Wan. Like Wan, Sandberg uses computer generated ghouls and demons sparingly, relying instead on practical in- camera effects like complex camera movements, sound, lighting and focus to hold, direct and re- direct our attention, building suspense and anticipation.
So where did this creepy doll come from? “Annabelle” writer Gary Dauberman offers up a tale that fits like a jigsa win to the extended “Conjuring” cinematic universe. She was hand- crafted by a dollmaker, Samuel Mullins ( Anthony LaPaglia), in the 1940s. Twelve years later, they open their home to group of young orphan girls and their guardian, Sister Charlotte ( Stephanie Sigman), hoping to bring some life back after mourning the loss of their young daughter, Annabelle, tragically killed ina n accident over a decade earlier. The youngwomen are grateful for their generosity, despite the rambling Victorian’s remote location and proliferation of random doll parts.
The thing about forbidden rooms is that they never stay closed and they’re ultimately never worth exploring, and this proves to be true in “Annabelle: Creation.” All it takes is some curious wandering, and soon, the glassyeyed doll is wreaking violent psychological and physical havoc on sweet Janice ( Talitha Bateman), who wears a leg brace after a bout with polio.
All the performances are worthy of note, especially Bateman, who offers up a wonderfully wide- ranging turn; also strong are LaPaglia and Miranda Otto as his bedridden wife, Esther. But the star is easily saucer- eyed 11- year- old Lulu Wilson, who plays the plucky Linda. Wilson is proving to be quite the scream queen, after her memorable turn in last year’s “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” and she’s a fantastically committed actress, who seems in on the joke and wise beyond her years.
It’s simply a treat to watch Sandberg’s style on display in “Annabelle: Creation,” filled with circling dolly shots that reveal and conceal evil in torturously teasing ways, effective narrative use of practical lighting for dramatic effect, and heartpounding sound effects and a score of screaming strings. The film relies more on spooky bumps and jumps than overwhelmingly horrific violence or gore ( though it definitely does have its moments), and Sandberg nails the tone that is equal parts scary and winking at the ridiculousness of it all.
“Annabelle: Creation,” written and directed by men, is a female- centered horror film with a palpable feminist bent. Girls and women aren’t sexualized, or presented as objects on screen. They’re the subjects: capable heroes, grisly villains, and tragic victims as well. In tangling with this group of feisty girls, Annabelle has become a true horror icon.
“Annabelle: Creation,” a Warner Bros. Entertainment release, is rated R for horror violence and terror. Running time: 109minutes. ½
Talitha Bateman stars in the latest installation of the Annabelle series, “Annabelle: Creation.”