For a re­view of “The Glass Cas­tle,”

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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.

“Annabelle: Creation”

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

TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Talitha Bate­man stars in the lat­est in­stal­la­tion of the Annabelle se­ries, “Annabelle: Creation.”

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