Reviews: Creepy dolls come home in 'Annabelle,' 'Child's Play'
Two new films carry on a horror tradition to varying degrees of success
Seasons change, fads fade, but creepy dolls never go out of style.
Especially in horror movies, where evil dolls have been wreaking havoc for as long as the genre has existed. Nothing mixes the innocence of childhood with the fear of the dark and the unknown quite like the painted face and glassy eyes of a creepy doll, which has proven ripe ground for scares for decades.
Even "Toy Story 4" plays with the notion of dolls who are up to no good, as Woody winds up in a dusty antiques store with a bad baby doll who controls an army of menacing ventriloquist dummies.
Two more new movies, "Annabelle Comes Home" and the rebooted "Child's Play," employ dolls that do dastardly things, though they come from different sides of the horror canon.
"Annabelle Comes Home" is the third entry in the "Annabelle" series, which is part of the larger "Conjuring" universe of films (which also includes the three "Conjuring" movies, "The Nun," "The Curse of La Llorona" and the upcoming "The Crooked Man").
Annabelle is a haunted porcelain doll carved straight out of your nightmares, although technically speaking, she doesn't, well, do anything. She's possessed by all sorts of troubled spirits and acts as a conduit for evil, but other than fall forward in her tiny rocking chair, her physical activity is all but non-existent.
As "Annabelle Comes Home" opens, Annabelle is riding in the backseat of a car driven by Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the "consultants of demonology and witchcraft" at the center of the "Conjuring" series. They're bringing Annabelle home where she'll stay in a room full of possessed relics locked in a glass case behind a very sternly worded "do not open" warning, which you know will soon be ignored by some dumb teenager.
That dumb teenager is Daniela (Katie Sarife), who visits Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) as she babysits for the Warrens and their young daughter, Judy (Mckenna Grace). Daniela, who is haunted by the death of her father, is snooping around and unlocks Annabelle's case, unleashing a literal house of horrors and making for one hell of a night of babysitting. If the ancient mummies with coins over their eyes in the hallways won't get them, perhaps the evil wolf outside will.
Though it carries an R-rating, "Annabelle Comes Home's" scares are mostly chaste, and first-time director Gary Dauberman goes for a slow-burn atmosphere of dread, favoring small bumps, knocks and bangs that hint at scares rather than bashing viewers with in-your-face terrors. It's a mostly effective thrill ride of lo-fi scares, and the script early on dispenses with the most obvious question: Why not just throw Annabelle away, or destroy her? That would only make things worse, the Warrens explain. Question asked, question answered.
While "Annabelle Comes Home" is set in the 1970s, "Child's Play" is set in the here and now, and updates the original "Child's Play" with a modern twist. The Buddi doll is a smart doll from Kaslan, an Amazon-like tech company, and he can control all your in-home gadgetry, and can even order you a ride. The original Chucky doll was possessed with the soul of a serial killer, but this time around, he possesses something even more sinister: connectivity to the cloud.
But before you can say "Alexa," "Child's Play" mostly squanders its potential to comment on our relationship with technology in favor of routine scares straight from the slasher playbook.
Gabriel Bateman is Andy, a lonely kid who gets a Buddi doll from his mother (Aubrey Plaza), who's worried Andy isn't making any new friends. Soon he's bonding with Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill), whose evil streak is a result of a Vietnamese factory worker switching off his anti-violence settings. "Are we having fun now?" Chucky asks, his actions slowly growing more devious, until a viewing of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" gives him some truly twisted ideas.
"Child's Play" is good humored and gratuitously gory but feels rushed, and oddly contained to its small world. And even that world feels dated: when Chucky glitches, his malfunctions feel like that of Max Headroom, which pre-dates even 1988's original "Child's Play."
"Child's Play" does have one thing going for it, which "Annabelle Comes Home" does as well: the doll at its center sure is creepy. And in the realm of demonic toys, that's what matters most.
'Annabelle Comes Home'
Rated R: for horror violence and terror
Running time: 106 minutes
Rated R: bloody horror violence, and language throughout
Running time: 120 minutes