By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.
Curse of the Witch’s Doll (2018), the debut feature from writer-director Lawrence Fowler, is an ambitious and frequently surprising 98-minute horror film. It is one which largely defies the stalk-and-slash expectations of the killer toy sub-genre. Still, what is just as noteworthy is how often Fowler changes the setting and categorization of the piece. For instance, the presentation commences with a quick, but gripping, bit that takes place in 1660. Afterwards, Fowler fast-forwards to the year where the bulk of the action in Fowler’s endeavor resides: 1942. The early sequences in this time frame beautifully flesh-out the bond between our heroine, Adeline Gray (in an always compelling turn from Helen Crevel), and her daughter, Chloe (in a mesmerizing enactment from Layla Watts). They are attempting to escape the bombing in their home town. This discharge leads them to an ominous mansion in the woods. Taking refuge in the domicile, the movie effectively plays like a gothic haunted house work for the first half of the presentation. Paired along with this strong element is the air of a missing person narrative. Such occurs as Chloe suddenly vanishes near the 20-minute mark. Eventually, the grief-stricken Adeline comes to believe that this disappearance was caused by the creepy title object.
Fowler handles this initial portion of the affair aptly. There is an atmosphere of mystery to the manner the proceedings found in this segment unfold that is both tense and interesting. Such an approach makes the alluring plot of the production evermore captivating. But, the exercise loses some momentum when the location of the action shifts after this stage. From herein, the new position for the chronicle becomes a time-honored cliché. This is disheartening after the earlier arrangement. Despite this previously stated disappointment, and the fact that some of the sequences in this latter phase can be a bit too dialogue-heavy, the undertaking still endures as focused and absorbing. Strengthening this aspect is that the project ends with a satisfying nod to the found footage technique. It is rooted in the present day.
What is just as enjoyable in Fowler’s presentation is the minimal use of its skillful effects. Such a decision adds a classic demeanor to the entirety. It is one that splendidly compliments the chill-inducing tone of the exertion. Helping matters is co-producer Geoff Fowler’s stunning doll design. Liz Fowler’s costume work is similarly stellar. The same can also be said of Lawrence Fowler’s seamless editing. His writing is sharp, character-driven and smartly paced. Likewise, his guidance of the project is claustrophobic, stylish and superb. The cinematography, make-up and sound contributions are masterful. Furthermore, Claire Carreno is excellent as The Witch. Philip Ridout’s depiction of Arthur Harper is brilliant. Neil Hobbs’ representation of Detective Nolan is terrific.
Spanning over 450 years, Curse of the Witch’s Doll is a success. Though it suffers at times in its later phases, the High Octane Pictures release remains admirable. This is especially true when considering the variety instilled in how Fowler tells his tale. There is a finely tuned sense of menace throughout that is addictive. Furthermore, the on-screen personas are relatable. Fowler’s stalwart concentration on Adeline’s plight heightens both the dramatic sensibilities and the underlying suspense of the project. Audiences are with Fowler’s lead through every painful step in her journey. Because of this, the Northampton, England recorded exertion fluently balances both emotional and physical terrors. The result of these high-functioning qualities is a well-crafted cinematic excursion. It is one that is unafraid to take risks and proudly surpasses presumptions. I highly recommend seeking out Fowler’s latest arrangement. It will arrive on VOD on February 2nd and on DVD March 6th, 2018.
(Unrated). Contains violence and adult themes.