Belfast Telegraph

Film: Horror reaches new heights in story of demon doll’s origins

 

Demonic possession is child's play in Annabelle: Creation, a Fifties-set prequel that enriches the mythology of the wooden doll, which wreaked havoc in the 2013 supernatural horror The Conjuring.

Annabelle: Creation

(Cert 15, 109 mins)

Three Stars

Directed by David F Sandberg, who sent beads of sweat cascading down our spines with his debut feature, Lights Out, this spooky yarn has enough piercing jolts to satisfy horror fans who enjoy being scared out of their wits.

It's a marked improvement on the first Annabelle standalone picture, which lazily appropriated elements from The Omen and Rosemary's Baby for a turgid tale of maternal sacrifice.

Screenwriter Gary Dauberman concentrates his battle of good and evil within the creaking walls of a doll-maker's isolated home, where tiny carved limbs dangle ominously from strings and a scarecrow in the barn threatens to spring to malevolent life.

Tiny movements in shadowy hallways signal impending doom and a stairlift provides an agonisingly slow escape from one centrepiece haunting.

Dauberman nods to other chapters in the series, including a visual cue to the hideous nun from The Conjuring 2, who will be the subject of her own spin-off in 2018, and an unsettling coda that dovetails neatly with murders in the existing timeline.

Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) are devastated by the death of their beloved seven-year-old daughter, Bee (Samara Lee).

In the depths of despair, they turn to their faith for solace, yearning against hope for an opportunity to see their little girl again.

Twelve years later, a local orphanage is forced to close and Samuel and his wife offer temporary refuge to Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and her six wards: Nancy (Philippa Coulthard), Carol (Grace Fulton), Kate (Tayler Buck), Tierney (Lou Lou Safran), Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson).

Janice is fitted with a leg brace as a result of a polio outbreak so she is consigned to the house while the other girls play outside and excitedly explore the sprawling property. Left to her own devices, Janice nervously enters Bee's old bedroom, which is out of bounds.

This transgression unleashes a dark force, which uses Bee's favourite plaything as a conduit to transform the sanctuary of the Mullins' homestead into a scream-filled slaughterhouse.

Annabelle: Creation relies on well-worn horror tropes to set nerves on edge, punctuating a linear narrative with explosions of sickening violence directed at the terrified girls.

Bateman and Wilson shoulder the film's emotional burden, attempting to outrun the darkness in a series of slickly executed set pieces.

Sandberg allows the suspense to build gradually and puts his teary-eyed young stars through the emotional wringer. Playtime is over.

The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature

(Cert u, 91 mins)

Three Stars

Cal Brunker slides into the director's chair for this sequel to the 2014 computer-animated comedy about a selfish purple squirrel who learns a valuable lesson about self-sacrifice after he destroys one animal community's winter store of nuts.

The second film returns to the fictional metropolis of Oakton City where Surly the squirrel (Will Arnett) is basking in his status as a hero alongside his good friends Buddy the rat (Tom Kenny), Precious the pug (Maya Rudolph) and Andie the red squirrel (Katherine Heigl).

Peace and goodwill in the critters' new home of Liberty Park is destroyed when the mayor (Bobby Moynihan) announces his intention to bulldoze the leafy oasis in order to build an amusement park, Libertyland, as a present for his spoilt daughter Heather (Isabela Moner).

Surly and his pals are enraged by the threat to their home and they band together to defeat the mayor's scheme.

Their secret weapon might just be a cute little mouse called Mr Feng (Jackie Chan), with extraordinary martial arts skills.

Atomic Blonde

(15) 115mins

Three Stars

Sweet dreams are made of director John Leitch’s action-packed spy caper, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart.

Hard-wired with Eighties nostalgia, Atomic Blonde is a kick-ass blast from the post-glasnost past that diverts attention from a flimsy plot and questionable characterisation with the most dazzling hand-to-hand fisticuffs since Matt Damon’s tours of duty as Jason Bourne.

The year is 1989 and tension crackles between east and west Berlin.

KGB agent Yuri Bakhtin (Johannes Johannesson) shoots MI6 agent James Gascoigne (Sam Hargrave) dead on the snow-laden streets and steals a microfilm containing the names and locations of active field agents.

MI6 chief Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and his gruff CIA counterpart Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) press gang elite British spy Lorraine Broughton (Theron) to locate Bakhtin and retrieve the microfilm before agents on both sides of the Atlantic are compromised.

From the moment Lorraine saunters through the airport arrivals lounge, she is under KGB surveillance and has to fight her way out of tight corners.

She finds an unlikely ally in inexperienced French operative Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), who believes she knows the identity of a traitor in the MI6 ranks, codename Satchel.

Theron slinks and somersaults through each frame with gung-ho intent. Leitch plays to his strengths as a stunt co-ordinator, pushing the cast to physical limits with each flurry of punches, kicks, and acrobatic tumbles.

Blondes have more bone- crunching fun.

Damon Smith

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White night: Casey Affleck as the ghost of C in A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story

(12A) 92 mins

Four Stars

When I was five years old, I woke one night to find an old woman at the bottom of the bed, staring down at me with a benevolent smile.

She silently left my room and descended the stairs to the hall with me in bleary-eyed pursuit. By the time I reached the living room, where my parents were watching television, she had vanished.

When I asked my mother where the old woman had gone, there was a moment of confusion that threatened to spark panic.

Once my parents were certain I was telling the truth, my mother calmly explained that the old woman was probably the previous owner of the house, who had died peacefully in one of the bedrooms.

Ever since, I have been convinced that death is not a full stop to this bewildering life — it is merely a tantalising semi-colon.

A Ghost Story is a haunting drama about life and love after death that drapes Oscar winner Casey Affleck in a flowing white sheet as the titular spectre for the majority of the 92-minute running time.

Written and directed by David Lowery, the film is an oddity that caresses the heartstrings and lingers in the memory.

Rooney Mara plays M, who lives in a one-level house with her musician husband C (Affleck).

Late one night, they are rudely roused by a crash of piano keys in the living room. When C investigates, he finds no evidence of an intruder.

Soon after, C is killed in a car accident outside the house and M drowns in crashing waves of grief.

A Ghost Story is an artfully composed memento mori, which unfolds in long unbroken takes.

Mara and Affleck share the screen for the majority of the film, capturing the devastation, yearning and emotional release of two souls, separated by tragedy.

Lowery’s elegiac picture is by turns strange and wonderful, beguiling and infuriating, and moved me profoundly.

Damon Smith

Belfast Telegraph

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