Farmhouse Scares in Annabelle: Creation

I’ve been trying to see a movie a day, like the tagline for MoviePass says, and decided to go see Annabelle: Creation because it was the only thing that really fit into the time slot I had. Plus, I love horror. A horror film almost always dominates at the box office, but people are surprised by how well those titles do. I’m not. We live in nerve-racking times with terrorist attacks and super hurricanes, and I think people are comforted when they go to a theater and see a horror film—they’re guaranteed to see how bad it can really get, and then they emerge unscathed and think, Well, that’s not so bad. I survived that.

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I saw the first Annabelle movie on DVD after it got lackluster reviews, but now, I don’t have to worry about that. A $17 ticket really makes you think about what you’re going to see because it’s more expensive than the DVD or rental, and you don’t want to throw money at crap. Plus, you usually make a movie an event with friends, meaning dinner and drinks and what-have-you, and who wants to have a bad experience and blather about what crap the movie was? No, you want to be excited and lit up about what you saw, to talk about it in rapturous tones. I’m more willing to take a chance with films using the MoviePass because all I lose is time, really. But even then, I don’t think it’s a bad loss. You’re in a two-hour experience of suspended concentration if you do a movie right and focus, not futz around on your smartphone.

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Now, I did see The Conjuring in a theater, where Annabelle was introduced as a brilliant prologue to the film. Well done. And it was an exciting experience, everything you want from a horror film. Unexpected scares and heavy audience participation. When I saw my fellow audience members for Annabelle: Creation (mostly teens), I figured I’d hear a lot from them. But no, they completely surprised me. I was the one laughing at heavy foreshadowing and stuck in a creaky seat that made noise no matter how I positioned my legs. The rest of the audience was silent, like in a French movie theater.

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Annabelle: Creation explains how the evil doll became so in the first place, and it’s a period piece like all the movies in the Conjuring franchise, though there are some bits of dialogue that struck me as post-2000 psychobabble. I loved seeing a farmhouse that looks like it’s straight out of Grant Wood’s American Gothic with fields, a barn, a well—settings that are so scary and thoroughly wrung in this picture for full horror potential. Here, the characters are a passel of orphans—the most tragic of tragic—who descend on a doll maker’s home. The main character Janice is struck with polio and starts in a heavy leg brace, then moves to an old-fashioned wheelchair à la The Changeling. All the actors in this film did a fine job, especially Talitha Eliana Bateman, who can be winsomely sweet and vulnerable or Bad Seed evil.

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The only time I was really drawn out of the movie is when the origin of Annabelle is summed up in a two-minute voiceover by one of the characters, who wears a painted face plate over half her face, kind of like a dolly-painted version of what the Phantom of the Opera wears. It was a great visual since she’s married to the doll maker and it’s Annabelle the doll who’s the manifestation of evil. But rather than having all the information delivered so quickly, I’d rather have had hints as to what was going on throughout the movie. But Annabelle: Creation was rather ambitious, attempting to pull together elements from The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, and Annabelle. I was thoroughly confused by the ending scene, though I heard some of the kids say, “Oh, I get it.”

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Afterward, a woman asked me, “Excuse me, Miss. Do you understand what happened?,” explaining that she had seen all the Conjuring films but didn’t get the ending scene. I told her I had, too, and didn’t get it. Later, I googled the ending, and maybe someday I’ll view the franchise entries all at once and try to piece the information together, but I prefer it when a movie can stand alone. I think the writers and director were just really excited and wanted to cram as much as they could into one film. Maybe that’s a product of the moviemakers realizing how expensive films are now for audience members, and they just wanted to guarantee as much bang for our buck as possible.

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The Troll Princess Who Almost Wasn’t

Amanda Hocking is the self-publishing wunderkind who’s recently turned the publishing world on its ear by showing how books can be successfully made and marketed on the Internet with a little creativity and a shoestring budget. The Cinderella story may seem to have happened overnight, but Hocking worked damn hard for her pumpkin carriage as evidenced by the epic tale on her blog: http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/2010/08/epic-tale-of-how-it-all-happened.html.

I couldn’t get a hold of Hocking’s original ebook of Switched so I checked out the souped-up version put out by traditional publisher St. Martin’s Griffin. The story reminds me slightly of my favorite book when I was in grade school—The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

The story’s protagonist is Wendy Everly, a teen who’s always had a problem with fitting in. She’s gone to many schools but has never felt quite right there or in her family. Wendy grew up in a well-to-do family, and she can remember the fancy house that she grew up in … until her mother tried to kill her.

Wendy was a cranky kid, and on her sixth birthday her mother tried to carve her up with a butcher knife, proclaiming her a monster and not her real daughter. Since then, her mother has been committed to a mental hospital and Wendy’s been raised by her older brother and aunt.

Wendy tries to get along at her latest high school, which she helps along with a unique power that she’s discovered. She’s found that she can convince people to go along with what she wants. There are a few other strange traits that set Wendy apart from others. She has wild, unruly hair that’s almost impossible to work with, she hates wearing shoes, and weirdest of all, she’s an anti–junk food teen who actually craves raw veggies and unprocessed crap.

She notices an especially intense boy at school who is always looking at her—Finn Holmes. She finds it creepy but is also slightly turned on by it. They dance around each other, and Finn starts telling her some crazy stuff—that she’s not who she thinks she is. Wendy sends him on his way, but when enemies attack, wanting Wendy to further their goals, Finn is forced to bring Wendy back to Förening (yay, umlauts!), a troll community hidden away in Minnesota, where she happens to be the princess of the trolls.

At Förening, Wendy is introduced to the Queen, her mother, who is cold and distant. Wendy is kept in the dark about much of the Trylle goings-on, but she gradually learns about their caste system, rules, and so on. At the same time, she feels like as much of a misfit as ever—even with the new title.

For the most part, I enjoyed Switched. The idea of a teenage troll is fresh and different, and I love the solution the trolls have come up with to fuel their economy, though it backfired on Wendy. What I want most is a copy of the ebook Switched to compare with the St. Martin’s version of Switched. I’m curious to see the DIY cover compared to St. Martin’s slick book design, and I want to see what kinds of editing changes were made. The last chapter of Switched completely took me out of the story because it was so different from the rest of the book. It really did seem like a tacked-on affair, and I believe in a strong finish, not a blow-by-blow passive voice description of what happened next. I want to know if this chapter was a St. Martin’s editor’s choice or not.

I am looking forward to reading Torn, the second part of the Trylle trilogy, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for other books and series by Hocking. I think she’s going to be a young author worth watching in the coming years.