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The Films of John R. Leonetti

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

The Butterfly Effect 2

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Annabelle (October 30/14)

A prequel to 2013's The Conjuring, Annabelle follows newly-married couple Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton) as they find themselves forced to battle a malevolent demon housed within the titular doll. It's clear immediately that Annabelle's biggest hurdle to overcome is its almost aggressively bland protagonists, as both Wallis and Horton, though competent performers, are simply unable to inject their respective characters with any depth or color - which naturally prevents the viewer from working up a rooting interest in Mia and John's continuing survival. Their blandness stands in sharp contract to the film's visuals, as director John R. Leonetti generally does an effective job of injecting the proceedings with a stylish, foreboding atmosphere (ie it becomes increasingly clear that Leonetti, along with cinematographer James Kniest, has been influenced by Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby). Likewise, Annabelle boasts a handful of unexpectedly gripping sequences that are, for the most part, far better than one might've anticipated - with the best and most obvious example of this a fantastic interlude in which Mia finds herself unable to escape a dark storage room. And yet the film never quite manages to coalesce into a cohesive whole, with the often excessively deliberate pace, in the second half, compounded by a tedious emphasis on the mystery behind Annabelle's existence. The lack of visceral thrills - ie this is a killer doll movie without a killer doll - ultimately confirms Annabelle's place as a slightly above average yet run-of-the-mill ghost story, although it's just as clear that the film basically works as a setup to James Wan's slightly superior The Conjuring.

out of

Wolves at the Door

Wish Upon (July 10/18)

Wish Upon casts Joey King as Clare Shannon, an affable high schooler who receives a mysterious Chinese artifact as a gift that grants its owner seven wishes - with the movie detailing the horror that ensues as the box collects a "blood sacrifice" for every wish granted. It's the kind of irresistibly high-concept premise that could (and should) have resulted in a fun, fast-paced thriller, and yet filmmaker John R. Leonetti generally proves unable to pull the whole thing together into a cohesive piece of work - with the picture's consistently underwhelming vibe especially disappointing given its proliferation of agreeable elements. (This is, after all, a film that mostly plays like an unofficial entry within the always-entertaining Final Destination series.) It's ultimately difficult to pinpoint exactly where Wish Upon goes wrong, as Leonetti, working from a script by Barbara Marshall, has infused the proceedings with the various ingredients one has come to expect from stories of this ilk - although it's equally apparent that the movie suffers from a distinct (and disheartening) lack of momentum that grows more and more problematic as time progresses. The decidedly erratic atmosphere paves the way for a wholeheartedly ineffective closing stretch, which ensures that Wish Upon ends on as underwhelming and anticlimactic a note as one could envision - with the end result is a disappointingly half-baked horror effort that could (and should) have been so much better.

out of

© David Nusair