Doll House Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by 101 Films
Directed by Steven M. Smith
Written by Christopher Jolley and Stephen M. Smith
2020, 85 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Released on 23rd March 2020
Toyah Willcox as Layla
Mark Wingett as James
Louisa Warren as Heather
Paul Danan as Andy
Little orphan Ava arrives at her new foster home with her only possessions – a porcelain doll and a doll house – in tow. The creepy vibes given off by the little girl and her pretend pal are but a precursor to the main event – soul-sucking paranormal activity and mysterious disappearances in the night. It isn’t long at all before people begin to go missing around the house, only to turn up as stuffed toys in Ava’s doll house.
Director Steven M. Smith is no stranger to the low-budget cinema of Great Britain, and his Doll House slots in quite neatly with the rest of his quite sizeable filmography (all cheap British supernatural thrillers or cheap British football hooligan thrillers). While the film is very evidently on the lower end of the budget spectrum, its story is competently told, with heaps of atmosphere and dread. This is not a good-looking film, but it is vividly shot in places; the filmmakers certainly know where to point their camera, even if they couldn’t afford a good one.
None of which is to say that Doll House is more than the sum of its bargain-basement parts. The story is a clichéd one, and none of its shocks or scares are particularly shocking or scary. The film is precisely what it purports to be, lacking any surprises or deviations from the Evil Orphan playbook. The Bill star Mark Wingett channels his inner modern-day Robert DeNiro to play psychiatrist James; perhaps the film’s most egregious cliché. The Toyah Willcox cameo is bizarre but welcome, and a nice break from the amateur hour acting from almost everyone else.
In that respect, it’s probably for a best that the film’s two leads are mute (one communicating almost entirely via Post-It notes), sparing us at least some of the horrible wooden British acting that plagues the film elsewhere. Regardless, poor Saffia Larter-Green manages to be terrible without ever saying a word, so there’s little respite from the film’s most off-putting elements.
Which is a shame, as the film does show promise at times. There are glimpses of properly Evil Dead snarling and gnashing demons, and what little action there is looks and feels gratifyingly grisly. There’s Toyah Willcox too, but she isn’t in it nearly enough. The film teases and plays with some fun ideas, but never brings them to the forefront, instead shuffling on with its duller, cheaper, easier ideas.
Doll House is a cheap but cheerful supernatural thriller, coasting on atmosphere and minor outbreaks of gore. These foundations are just about strong enough to hold the whole thing up, but it’s a flimsy, ugly little thing.
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