“The Twist” has become ubiquitous in filmmaking language. I picture pitch meetings, “This happens, and then this, but the twist is…” and meanwhile I sit in front of the screen, eyes rolling hard as the formulaic narrative unfolds: puzzling looks from our protagonist, flashbacks of dreamy but recycled shots, protagonist’s face showing profound realization, etc.” We know, get on with it, this movie has a twist. Curse of the Witch’s Doll operates like a movie made by a jaded horror viewer. Its title alone conjures images of intertextual checkpoints like a movie from the studio that brought you Scary Movie (Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday The Thirteenth comes to mind). The film itself doesn’t fail to deliver on this hokey and tired premise.
Adeline Gray arrives with her daughter Chloe at a spooky manor in England 1942, due to escaping bombing back home in Kent. They’re met by Mr. Arthur Harper, owner of the house, who’s decided to offer his inherited home for those in need during the war. The whole thing has a gothic, ghostly vibe similar to 2001s The Others, but instead of feeling the vastness of an old, drafty English house, we’re shown tight character shots in recycled rooms. Oh, and there’s a creepy doll. And Chloe communicates with the doll. And there’s overdubbed child laughter.
There’s workable acting to be found here, especially from leads Helen Crevel and Philip Ridout. Actual foreshadowing takes place, in one of a few of similar looking woodsy scenes in which Mr. Harper, attempting to console Adeline, says, “How you deal with loss defines the rest of your life”.
Then we’re met with a twist. Instead of gothic horror, this movie’s gone psychological horror. Adeline’s crazy, our setting of the manor house is not what it seems, and good Mr. Harper is really Dr. Miles Litner, head doctor at an English mental institution charged with curing Adeline of her delusional visions of Chloe and spooky manors and haunted dolls.
A few “twists” await the viewer (including one especially egregious turn toward the end when we find ourselves in the realm of found footage). Honestly, the film feels so dull and formulaic. The latter narrative so rushed and forced that any redeeming qualities are overwritten, including any dynamic between our leads, as our supposed lead Helen Crevel disappears halfway through.
Despite any joyous schlock that the title may suppose, Curse of the Witch’s Doll feels so devoid of care or joy in the medium of horror, that one wonders what its purpose is at all. Capable actors are hamstrung, spooky locales are shot in suffocating close-ups, and the writing seems so intent on surprising the audience it forgets about storytelling altogether. Horror still needs to be smart, and perhaps fortunately for us, “the twist” just isn’t doing it anymore.
Curse of the Witch’s Doll will be released 2/6.