Film Review: The Butterfly Effect 2 (dir by John R. Leonetti)


“Hey, everyone!  Let’s remake The Butterfly Effect, just without any of the goofiness that made the first film so enjoyable!”

That would seem to be the logic behind 2006’s The Butterfly Effect 2.  Since the first Butterfly Effect was a minor hit (I saw it in the theaters!), it was inevitable that there would be a sequel.  And since the first Butterfly Effect is currently on Netflix, it’s also inevitable that the sequel would follow it.

Anyway, Butterfly Effect 2 is just like Butterfly Effect except, instead of a guy trying to fix his entire screwed-up childhood, the sequel is about an office worker named Nick (Eric Lively) who has just had a really bad year.  His girlfriend and his two best friends were killed in a traffic accident.  He lost a big promotion at work.  His apartment is a mess and he keeps having these hella icky nosebleeds.  Agck!  Nick, however, discovers that if he stares at an old picture, he can be transported back to the moment that the picture was taken.

Since Nick obviously didn’t see the first movie, he proceeds to start changing the past.  He prevents the deaths of all of his friends but now, in the new timeline, he actually has to work with them and this results in him getting fired.  He then goes back in the past to keep a jerk from getting a promotion but this leads to Nick getting the promotion instead, breaking up with his girlfriend, and becoming an ennui-stricken bachelor.  Apparently, being a wealthy bachelor means doing business with organized crime because Nick soon has people trying to kill him.  Maybe there’s no way to create a perfect present, the film suggests.

And the film might be right but that doesn’t make it any less boring to sit through.  The Butterfly Effect 2 is just never as much fun as the first film.  It lacks the goofy charm of Ashton Kutcher and most of the timeline changes are rather dull.  The sequel never matches the glory of Ashton Kutcher waking up to discover that he’s gone from being a disheveled psych major to being a clean-cut, sweater-wearing frat boy.

The Butterfly Effect 2 was directed by John Leonetti, who would later direct the genuinely creepy Annabelle.  Of course, he also directed the absolutely awful Wolves at the Door.  As for The Butterflyn Effect 2, it’s not creepy but it’s also not awful enough to be memorable.  More than anything, it’s a bland movie.  It’s just kind of there, floating in direct-to-video, Netflix limbo.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Wolves at the Door (dir by John Leonetti)


I’m really not sure what to make of Wolves at the Door.

I knew the film was inspired by the crimes of Charles Manson and his family before I watched the film.  Not only was Wolves at the Door specifically advertised as being “Inspired by The Infamous Manson Family Murder Spree” but just check out the plot description that was provided by Warner Bros:

Four friends gather at an elegant home during the Summer of Love, 1969. Unbeknownst to them, deadly visitors are waiting outside. What begins as a simple farewell party turns to a night of primal terror as the intruders stalk and torment the four, who struggle for their lives against what appears to be a senseless attack.

The Manson Family have inspired a countless number of films, so that’s not really an issue.  Almost all of those films either presented Manson and his followers as being the epitome of evil or they told stories that were heavily and obviously fictionalized.

Wolves at the Door, however, is different.  Other than in some news footage that is shown during the end credits, Manson is not seen in the film.  For that matter, the members of the Family don’t get much screen time either.  Mostly, they’re just seen as shadows, creeping down hallways and sometimes materializing in a doorway before vanishing.  There’s no mention of Helter Skelter or the Beatles.  I’d have to rewatch the film to say for sure but I think it’s possible that we only hear them say one or two words over the course of the entire movie.

Instead, Wolves at the Door spends most of its running time with the victims of the Manson Family, following them as they are unknowingly stalked inside of a Los Angeles mansion.  Usually, in a film like this, you would expect the names to be changed but, for some reason, that doesn’t happen in Wolves At The Door.

So, Katie Cassidy plays a pregnant actress who is named Sharon.

Elizabeth Henstridge plays a coffee heiress who is named Abigail.

Adam Campbell plays Abigail’s Polish boyfriend, who is named Wojciech.

Miles Fisher plays a hairdresser who is named Jay and who just happens to be Sharon’s ex-boyfriend.

And, finally, Lucas Adams plays a teenager stereo enthusiast named Steven, who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Speaking as someone who loves horror and who has defended some of the most critically derided films of all time, everything about Wolves at the Door just feels icky, tacky, and wrong.  Many grindhouse horror films have been inspired by actual crimes but most of them at least changed the names of the victims.   You really have to wonder just what exactly the filmmakers were thinking here.

(Then again, just two years ago, NBC greenlit a show called Aquarius, which could have just as easily been called “The Adventures of Young Charlie Manson.”)

It’s not just that Wolves at the Door is offensive.  In fact some of the best movies of all time were specifically designed to be offensive.  The problem with Wolves at the Door is that it’s also just a very shoddy film.  (In fact, if the film had been well-made, it wouldn’t be quite as offensive.)  Though the actors may be talented, they’re let down by a script that’s full of some of the clunkiest dialogue that I’ve ever heard.  Though the soundtrack may feature some good songs, they’re still the same damn songs that show up in every movie set in 1969.  (Judging from the movies, everyone in 1969 just listened to the same five songs over and over again.)  Though the movie itself is only 73 minutes long, it is so abysmally paced that it feels much, much longer.

Sadly, this film was directed by John Leonetti, who did a pretty good job with Annabelle.  Again, I’m not sure what exactly he or anyone else was thinking with Wolves at the Door, which I’m going to go ahead and declare to be the worst film of 2017.  I know that the year isn’t over yet but I just can’t imagine anything as bad as this.

Horror Film Review: Annabelle (dir by John R. Leonetti)


Annabelle

Remember Annabelle, the tres creepy doll from The Conjuring?

Well, she’s back and she’s starring in a film of her very own!  Annabelle is the first horror film to be given a wide release this October and, judging from the commercials, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. are really hoping that you’ll remember just how scary and effective The Conjuring was when it comes time to decide whether you want to see Annabelle or Gone Girl this weekend.

Of course, Annabelle actually have very little do with The Conjuring.  Though Father Perez, the token concerned priest played by Tony Amendola, mentions Ed and Lorraine Warren, neither one of them actually appears in the film.  Neither do any of the other characters or ghosts from The Conjuring.  The only link between the two films is that doll.

Taking place in 1969, Annabelle is an origin story of sorts.  Doctor John Gordon (Ward Horton) buys a doll for his pregnant wife, Mia (Annabelle Wallis).  The doll looks evil from the minute that Mia unwraps it but, according to the film, it was actually harmless until a psychotic hippie girl (Tree O’Toole) bled on it.  That blood seeped into the doll’s eye and the next thing you know…

Annabelle2

No,  I’m not going to spoil it for you.  In fact, it’s really not necessary for me to spoil it for you because I imagine you can probably guess everything that’s going to happen.  If you’ve ever seen a haunted house film, you know exactly what’s going to happen when John goes to work and Mia gets left in the house alone.  If you’ve ever seen a demonic possession film, you can guess what’s going to happen when Mia happens to stumble across the occult book store next door.  And, if you’ve ever seen any film, you can guess that the book store is managed by a sassy mystic played by Alfre Woodard.

That’s right!  There’s nothing surprising about Annabelle!

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Horror films are unique in that they often times actually benefit from being so predictable.  You watch in dread because you know that something terrible is going to happen even though the characters in the film do not.  You know enough to yell, “Don’t open that door!” but the characters in the film don’t.  That’s exactly what makes a film like Annabelle scary.

The Conjuring, I thought, was not only a great horror film but it was also one of the best films of 2013.  That’s because, along with being a scary movie, The Conjuring also dealt quite intelligently with very real issues of faith and family.  The Conjuring was fun to watch because it was scary but it stayed with you because it was full of subtext.  Annabelle, on the other hand, is a film without subtext.  Everything important about Annabelle can be found right on the surface.

Annabelle is a film that exists solely to scare you and how much you enjoy it will probably depend on how much you enjoy  horror films to begin with.  The shock scenes are handled well, with an emphasis on sudden noise on the soundtrack and intimidating shadows appearing in the background.  Everything that distinguished The Conjuring — the attention to detail, the lively performances, and the imaginative plotting — has been pushed to the side to make room for the next scare.

As a result, Annabelle is one of those films that makes you jump while you’re watching it but doesn’t stick around in your head afterwards.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre and like a good scare, you’ll probably find something to enjoy in Annabelle.  (It’s no Devil’s Due but it’s still better than the latest Paranormal Activity film.)  If you’re not a horror fan — well, then you probably weren’t planning on seeing Annabelle in the first place.

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