These modern horror chillers are taking a leaf out of Roger Corman’s playbook – the cheaper they are, the more money they’ll make. And when previous movies in this shared “Conjuring”/”Annabelle” universe have made blockbuster amounts of money back, there’s no sign of them slowing down.
This entry, from “Lights Out” director David Sandberg, reminds you of Corman’s stable in another way. It’s kind of crap – not just made for cheap, but with corners cut in the script, acting and most other elements.
The story and script are both pretty ham fisted, and while you can’t really expect Oscar-worthy work from kids in their pre-teens, especially in this genre, even Australian vets Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia are sleepily phoning it in.
They play The Mullins couple, a kindly dollmaker and his wife who live in a remote country house in the 1950s, lose their daughter in an accident and become reclusive, cut off from the world and apparently each other. For some reason the plot doesn’t explain very well, they decide to take in a group of girls and their caretaker, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) from a local orphanage.
The girls think the big house and grounds are like a holiday, but the youngest two, Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson) soon start to hear things that go bump in the night.
Mr Mullins has gruffly forbade them to enter his dead daughter’s room, but further investigation there under the cover of darkness reveals a secret room behind the wall that contains the doll we saw in the original.
To talk about why it’s hidden away would be to reveal too much of the story, but suffice it to say the Mullins’ came to believe the spirit of their daughter was with them in the house, except that by the time it was too late they realised Annabelle was actually home to something far darker.
The plotting is a constant exercise in set-up-scary-set-piece-later-on with the scarecrow out in the barn and the creaky electric chairlift Janice needs to use to get up the stairs, and even though you might jump in your seat a few times, little of what goes on is a real surprise.
The design of the interior of the house is the best aspect of the movie, belonging in far better material that the script that serves it here, but as you sit there saying a line an instant before a character does and waiting for LaPaglia or Otto to show up (and show some life) you just can’t get past the flaws.