Since I moved to Indonesia I haven’t been paying a whole lot of attention to movies. Only the more iodine Hollywood blockbusters — your Transformers, your Marvel, your Pixar films — tend to get wide releases and even then they trickle in at a rate of about two or three a month. Plus you never know if it’s going to be censored or not. For a real cinephile like myself, who takes pride in riding his unicycle eleven miles to an organic coffee shop hidden in a garbage dump to discuss the finer points of a Bulgarian art film that doesn’t exist… well waiting around for the driblets of Hollywood money-machines to toddle into theaters here is practically sacrilege.
Thus, Annabelle: Creation caught me totally unawares. Reviews for the film — which I had never even heard of — have been pretty good and it killed at the box office over the weekend. Then on Friday, while eating some street food at a penyetaan and watching rats chase each other under the gas stove, we ran into some friends who had just come from the theater. “Oh my God, you have to watch Annabelle!” they said. “It’s SO crazy!” Laura asked me if I wanted to go and I said of course. “Will you be scared?” she asked me and I assured her I would be fine.
I should probably mention that I hate horror movies. I never, ever watch them. Even now, at the age of 31, after I watch a horror movie I might be sitting in my bed afterward and get a creepy feeling like someone is in the closet and they are going to slit my throat in my sleep even though I have an Indonesian-sized closet which means nobody could fit in there unless they had some kind of disease that prevented them from growing after the age of four which actually would be the most terrifying kind of closet killer! But I digress. Sometimes I force myself to watch horror movies because, like the Babadook or It Follows, they are just good films worth seeing. In those cases, I always make sure to have a lot of beer handy because beer gives me courage to do everything: talk to girls, confront the bottomless despair of life, watch scary movies.
The very next night I met Laura at the movie theater and we watched Annabelle: Creation. About half-way through I realized that it was a spin-off of The Conjuring, and apparently is part of some kind of creepy Expanded Universe for that franchise, because Heaven forbid we fail to ever squeeze every last ounce of profit from any idea ever invented. That I didn’t even realize it was supposed to be awkwardly shoe-horned into the Conjuring franchise speaks to how well the film works on its own merits as a stand-alone. This movie is not riding franchise coattails; it’s a genuinely well-made horror film.
In broad strokes, the movie is about a doll possessed by a demon, set in a rural farm house in the 1950s. There is some interesting thematic balancing suggesting the occult and religion are different sides of the same coin but this is not a movie that begs for deep analysis. What it is, is an excellent scare machine. The attention to detail in the production design, the careful way space and setting are established and the way tension is expertly dialed up through evocative shots and blocking really make it stand out. I would tend to agree the acting is nothing special; but it’s a genre flick in which the actors are mostly just there to be scared by ghosts so who goes in expecting Brando? The plot is full of contrivances but that’s OK too, because plot in these genre films is mostly just there to provide a convenient excuse for people to do idiotic things so they can get killed and the audience can experience a thrill or two. I kept whispering loudly to Laura “Why the FUCK is she going into THAT room?!?!” to which Laura responded “Because it is a HORROR MOVIE!” which really makes me think she should be writing film criticism and not me.
Aside from being a well-made horror flick, watching this movie in a packed theater in Indonesia was a blast. First of all, horror movies are best experienced in a communal setting because if you are just watching people get dismembered while at home alone on Netflix then I think you might be Ted Bundy. In Annabelle, the scary moments are so expertly set up, with each passing second filling the screen with more tension, that any movie-going audience anywhere in the world can appreciate the skill that went into crafting this film even if they don’t necessarily speak English. And, indeed, in the first big scare of the film an Indonesian girl somewhere in the theater screamed out in terror — but like, two seconds before the actual scary thing happened, which made me and everyone else laugh uncontrollably.
I also learned something interesting about Laura. When a scary event was about to happen in the movie, she would cover her ears. Why didn’t she cover her eyes like a normal person? I don’t know. Maybe she thinks you see with your ears and smell with your eyes. Whatever the reason, it made it really hard to hold her hand during the scary parts, so I spent about 1/3 of this film with my face buried in the crook of her arm while she held her hands over her ears. I am glad we were in the very back row because I am sure we looked like a couple of whackadoos. “Usually when they watch a scary movie, the girl is supposed to hold onto the boy” Laura teased me and I might have made a pithy comeback but I was too busy crying.
If that isn’t love, then what are we living for?