Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
USA/China, 2021. Atomic Monster, Boom Entertainment, Boom! Studios, New Line Cinema, Starlight Culture Entertainment. Story by James Wan, Ingrid Bisu, Akela Cooper, Screenplay by Akela Cooper. Cinematography by Michael Burgess. Produced by Michael Clear, James Wan. Music by Joseph Bishara. Production Design by Desma Murphy. Costume Design by Lisa Norcia. Film Editing by Kirk M. Morri.
Annabelle Wallis wakes up in the hospital after a mysterious intruder broke into her house and killed her abusive husband and attacked her, and she learns that she has also lost her latest in a long line of failed pregnancies. Recovering at home after the traumatic event, she begins to have visions of the same otherworldly figure, her vision taken over by the almost mythical creature that transports her to strangers’ homes to witness a series of grisly murders. Two paper-thin cop stereotypes get on the case and discover that all the victims were all formerly employed at a medical lab that dealt with a particularly strange case that might be connected to a childhood that Wallis doesn’t remember. She and her sister visit their mother to learn about a past that she has forgotten, and thankfully her mom has kept a convenient number of VHS tapes on file that we watch in fragments, with much of the film’s time taken up with a fetishistic poring over the clicks and white noise of analog technologies that have a much deeper emotional resonance than anything coming from the characters, reminiscent of the kind of supernatural possibilities that Victorians once saw in early photographic technologies. In a nearly two hour movie, there is far too much dithering over the details before we find out the truth about who the killer is and, while it represents, conceptually, some of the most imaginative plotting of any of James Wan’s many almost identical horror movies, this film delivers far too little in its final moments to justify the lengthy building up that we’re treated to along the way. At this point Wan’s style is a genre of its own, an expressionist style of cinematography that makes everything look like horror movie world instead of anything recognizably real (and therefore scary) and the same impossibly ornate home environment, and while the concept at the heart of the action is impressively disgusting, stealing liberally from Eyes of Laura Mars and Brian De Palma’s Sisters, it deserves a far more original treatment than a haunted house ride with jump scares that you can predict with a timer. It doesn’t help that the characters are bland stock types being given no life by a cast of wholly uninspired actors, with Wallis so dull in the lead role that it almost feels as if the story keeps making up its excesses to compensate for her as it goes along.