Dolls Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Uncork’d Entertainment
Directed by Cuyle Carvin
Written by Justin Hawkins, Josh Hawkins, and Jeff Miller
2019, 85 minutes, Not Rated
Released on July 2nd, 2019
Thomas Downey as Robert Holbrook
Trinity Simpson as Sammey Holbrook
Dee Wallace as Margaret
Bret Green as James
Elise Muller as Lynn
Melinda DeKay as Edna
Robert R. Ryel as Henry
Don’t go into this one thinking it’s a remake of the 1987 Stuart Gordon cult classic that set the standard for killer doll films (sorry, Chucky). Still, don’t be too disappointed. While the Dolls of 2019 doesn’t have the directorial pedigree of that aforementioned gem, there’s plenty to enjoy in this surprisingly well-thought-out tale of pint-sized terror.
Robert Holbrook (Thomas Downey; Sorority Party Massacre) is a once-celebrated children’s book author and illustrator who’s hit the bottom of the barrel. His soon-to-be ex (Elise Muller; The Phoenix Incident) is taking him to the cleaners. His 17-year-old daughter Sammey (Trinity Simpson in her debut role) is bitter and anxiety-riddled. He can’t stay away from the bottle. His mother recently died in a “freak accident”. Things can’t get much worse for Robert, so he does the next logical thing; he moves into his late mother’s creepy old house with a fresh supply of booze to start a book about the creepy doll collection that runs around the attic. Of course, a crazy lady (horror legend Dee Wallace; Cujo, The Howling) with an even crazier story shows up to thicken the plot. What could possibly go wrong with that? And why do these dolls keep appearing in places they shouldn’t possibly be?
If you’re one of those people who refuse to even entertain the notion that a movie with killer dolls can present anything of substance or scare value, then Dolls isn’t going to do anything to change your mind. It’s not breaking any new ground, but what it does do right it does so with some heart and better-than-average writing. The trio of screenwriters take the time to make the characters real people, and that requires some patience on the part of the viewer. That alone is something of a lost art and is frankly refreshing.
Newcomer Trinity Simpson is a minor revelation in her role as the ubiquitous child of messy divorce – she’s a snarky, angry, and conflicted (but still sweet and vulnerable) Gen Z kid, young and pretty in a down-to-earth way. Her relationship with her dad has a natural feel that felt akin to the one I have with my 15-year-old; it worked organically (a couple of hammy lines notwithstanding). Even the mom’s intrusion lent a credibility to the situation.
The backstory of the dolls is a pleasant surprise. There’s real thought put into it in both the concept and the way they use the cold open to wrap back around. Additionally, that story makes the dolls “anti-Chucky” approach to their evil deeds more logical. It’s a clever touch that elevates the material above the meager budget.
Two of the biggest crowning achievements come from the house itself and (of course) the iconic Dee Wallace. The home is one of those classic edifices that work so well in this kind of story – dark wood, deep shadows, and loads of character. As for Dee Wallace, well…you don’t need to talk her up. Her mere presence adds value by the truckload. She does fragile and crazy with her usual level of aplomb. I know that’s not a surprise, but still…
The titular dolls are used in conjunction with a flashing light camera trick that is sure to bother some folks, but it’s a logical move. The limited kills are cleverly spaced and set up to maximize effectiveness within the budgetary confines. VFX is limited, and that’s not a bad thing. Again, it smacks of intelligent design. The look of the dolls themselves is creepy in a lovingly old-school way, scoring style points for the classic homage.
The pacing is slow, and Dolls won’t make any fans in the body count department. However, that’s not always what it’s about. It may sound like a backhanded compliment, but I am pleasantly surprised at how much I like this movie. When a horror film caters a bit more to the discerning crowd that understands the mechanics of classic horror, it’s never to be complained about. There’s even a solid twist at the end that really turns the knife in an unexpected direction!
Also, am I crazy or did I catch a shout-out to the gloriously craptastic masterpiece, The Room? I’m pretty sure I heard the dad utter the line, “You’re tearing me apart, Sammey!”
There’s that campy sensibility I needed for balance. That alone gets you a half-star upgrade!
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