By Andrew Buckner
Rating: *** out of *****.
Jumpy, grisly and straight-forward, writer-director Rene Perez’s Playing with Dolls: Havoc (2017) holds rigorously to the formula established in the two prior entries in this series. They are the admirable, if dialogue-heavy, Playing with Dolls (2015) and the superior follow-up, Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust (2016). Such a presence of familiarity as that mentioned above is a classic trait of the slasher sub-genre in which all the Playing with Dolls flicks are firmly rooted. Still, it makes Havoc almost indecipherable from its predecessors. The lean, seventy-eight-minute “uncut” version of the picture has enough stalk and chase moments, brutal acts of on-screen violence and comforting tropes to pose as satisfying entertainment. This is even if the project never comes across as remotely tense or terrifying.
The latest admission into this low-budget saga showcases Havoc, who holds more than a slight resemblance to Jason Voorhees, breaking up an unsuspecting meeting between Timothy Curry (Kyle Clarke), his wife, Sara (Nicole Stark), and Timothy’s girlfriend, Mia (Jade Ellis). This occurs in the Curry’s cabin in the woods. Mia arrives at the secluded location in hopes that Timothy will make a proposal of marriage. What she gets is an unanticipated confrontation with Sarah. Once Timothy makes it to his destination, any thoughts he has of a relaxing getaway are torn by the unfaithful secret that has recently been disclosed. Yet, it isn’t long into Timothy’s strained attempts to explain himself to his matrimonial partner that this tearful situation turns deadly.
It’s a simple, yet worthwhile, premise for a feature of this ilk. Though the first and second act sequences which chronicle the turbulence Mia puts into Sara and Timothy’s relationship are handled in the manner of a soap opera, it doesn’t take too much away from the iDiC Entertainment produced labor. This is because Clarke, Stark and Ellis all turn in solid enactments. They make Perez’s often stiff dialogue better than it should be. These often-theatrical flashes are also assisted by the effective bits of Havoc living up to his name that are placed in between these episodes.
What also helps matters is the colorful, eye-popping cinematography from Perez which dominates the effort. It takes full advantage of the snowy landscapes surrounding the indoors retreat where the venture is set. Such also makes the plentiful instances of gore evermore visceral. Perez also contributes seamless editing. Her largely synth and piano driven music is evocative and haunting. It heightens the atmosphere of the exercise. The tone is further punctuated by her skillful guidance and fair, if routine, penning of the affair.
The lighting, make-up and sound work found herein are certainly proficient. Likewise, it opens with a near ten-minute arrangement that is as attention-garnering as it is deftly executed. Stormi Maya, who is cast in this section in a small role dubbed Girl in Caves, is solid in her enactment. The commencing credits configuration which arises immediately after this part is clever and visually stunning. Havoc also ends well. This is with a final act that delivers just what audiences have come to expect from this type of B-movie. The characters are archetypical. Yet, they are developed sufficiently. The result is an occasionally fun, unassuming journey into cinematic fear. It certainly doesn’t break new ground. Yet, there is no reason horror fanatics shouldn’t be able to fully appreciate this latest installment in the on-going Playing with Dolls narrative. This is especially if you enjoyed the last pair of films in this franchise.
(Unrated). Contains graphic violence, nudity, adult content and profanity.
Available now at Amazon.