2 out of 5
Directed by: Paul Davis
What starts out as a fun, horror riff on Jumanji – something writers Alan Blake Bachelor and James Bachelor nod to when one of the characters goes ahead and mentions it – gives us some well-written, believable teens convening on Halloween to play boardgame ‘Uncanny Annie,’ only for the game’s titular character to come to life and enforce the game’s truth-or-dare type interactions upon them.
There’s a nice spirit of inclusion in Annie in the sense that a lot of genre cliches are side-stepped: we open on a D&D gaming session, interrupted by a good looking shirtless dude who we’re fully expecting to be the jock to these nerds; instead, there’s good-natured bickering amongst them all, but they’re housemates, and there’s not even a forced “you have abs but you’re cool with us playing games” acknowledgment. There’s no utterance of dorkdom; when girls show up later for the group to mourn the year-past death of another friend, there’s similarly none of the gosh-I’m-uncomfortable-around-girls obnoxiousness, or cheeseball flirting. Sure, a mention of Monty Python by one of the gals gets an approval from a guy, but all of this has a very natural feel to it. And when they get around to playing a game – something they used to do with their friend – the game a surprise, never-before-seen find amongst their collection, of course, and when the game’s challenges and questions turn dark, there’s literally zero of the time-wasting unbelieving of what’s occurring, or of the bickering that has generic horror movie characters turning on one another. These are horror-aware teens, and they’re generally good, intelligent people; they get on page with what’s happening right away and understand the stakes, and I’d say we like them for it. While some unfortunate secrets rear their head during the game, even those don’t feel cheap, nor do the groups’ responses feel inappropriate or forced. Director Davis has to resort to some low budget cheese to keep our players playing, but it plays to a sort of B goofiness that kept me thoroughly entertained.
…Until even that low budget had run its course, and all the work the writers had done to avoid time-wasting tropes meant they still had about 30 or 40 minutes left for a feature. Then, sigh, Uncanny Annie just becomes dumb. It repeats its scares, and the ‘reveal’ of Annie herself is aiming for scary girl, but ends up looking like a store bought Halloween costume. It’s off. The loose game rules the movie had thus far established are pish-poshed; there’s an unmotivated escalation at the end that has to make you question why it wasn’t done sooner, and the inevitable fake-out ending is almost exhausting, coming at the conclusion of such an unfortunate decline in quality.
I’m definitely down with Into the Dark, and I’m happy it’s continuing for its second season, but if they’re going to strip the budget from some entries, I’d ask for some tighter scripts that make it through 90 minutes.