Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Padraig Reynolds
Writer: Danny Kolker, Christopher Wiehl
Producer: Greg Haggart, Danny Kolker, Christopher Wiehl, Padraig Reynolds
Stars: Christopher Wiehl, Kym Jackson, Kennedy Brice, Yohance Myles, Brea Grant, Brandon Johnson, Naomi Kyle, Daniel James, Melissa Nearman, Jo-Ann Robinson, Samantha Smith, Tina Lifford
A serial killer’s cursed worry dolls connect a series of murders to the investigating detective’s young daughter.
Serial killer Henry Leonard Bale has claimed countless victims, one of which was the neglected marriage of relentless detective Matt. Matt has only become more obsessed with taking down Henry ever since. He finally does, although that inadvertently immerses him in a horror even worse than Henry.
What Matt doesn’t know yet is that Henry wasn’t exactly acting alone. Brought on by a troubled boyhood, Henry’s madness corrupted the voodoo magic inside a handcrafted set of worry dolls once intended for healing. Henry couldn’t stop his evil from dominating the dolls and with his death, the curse he put inside them remains unbroken.
Unable to simply explain, “the dolls in Henry’s box must be destroyed and here’s why,” a priestess instead cryptically warns, “I have to have that item.” Matt gives a “look lady” response about police protocols and takes the box of worry dolls himself.
Matt’s concern for chain of possession regarding evidence in multiple homicides goes right out the window when, for whatever reason, the box of dolls remains in Matt’s car as he pays a surprise visit to his ex-wife Amy. Matt’s policing partner Darcy was with him when he left the crime scene, so one can only conclude he dropped her off back at the station without logging the killer’s confiscated possessions. Maybe that was more paperwork than he could be bothered with at the time.
Provenance for the dolls is messed up even more after Matt’s eight-year-old daughter Chloe mistakes Henry’s box for a gift and takes the dolls. Despite the big deal previously made by he, Darcy, and the priestess about the box, Matt never notices its subsequent disappearance.
Chloe repurposes the dolls as charms on homemade necklaces and pulls a Micki and Ryan by selling the unknowingly cursed objects out of a cute corner in her mother’s antique store. Three necklaces are purchased and the fourth goes back to Chloe. Soon, everyone who wears a doll is possessed to commit a violent murder related to his/her deepest fear. Matt now has to stop Henry’s evil once again, before his daughter is consumed by the dolls’ curse.
“The Devil’s Dolls,” previously known as “Worry Dolls,” doesn’t qualify as a “destination” movie. In other words, you wouldn’t necessarily make an effort to seek it out and run into its arms intentionally. It’s the kind of movie you land on by happenstance while sleepily channel surfing and opt to stay there out of curiosity, boredom, or because you dropped the remote and don’t feel like picking it up.
That’s a glib way of making the backdoor compliment equivalent of, “it’s not too bad” or the glass half-full version, “it’s okay.” I poke fun at plotting in the preceding recap, but what I mean to say is, “The Devil’s Dolls” is fine for a conventional possession thriller content to tread familiar ground.
In fact, “fine” is an adjective fit for describing most of the movie. Acting is fine. The premise is fine. A few elements earn even higher marks. Several terrifically subtle makeup jobs come courtesy of Georgia Jacobs with effects from Josh and Sierra Russell. Composer Holly Amber Church contributes an effective piano score that cuts a keen swath of eeriness, too.
Then there are pieces that don’t quite achieve “fine,” such as sloppy insert shot editing occurring in several sequences. In the scene where Chloe sells her charm necklaces inside Amy’s store for instance, the camera goes out of its way to show a woman and her wheelchair-bound grandmother signing their contact information into a registry. When Henry later tracks down the charms, this is the only clue the audience has as to who might have the third doll, because the women are never actually shown purchasing Chloe’s necklace.
Watch the store scene closely and a third hand can be seen dropping cash in the till, although it isn’t at all clear who that hand belongs to. Chloe also drops a plain worry doll on the floor, but the one her mother picks up is connected to a necklace. Conversely, one sequence you definitely should not scrutinize too closely is the one where an actress visibly morphs into her stunt double in order to catch on fire.
Provided the viewer understands s/he is signing up for “in one ear and right out the other” entertainment, “The Devil’s Dolls” fits “fine” as a fair fright film for a Friday night. Don’t go out of your way to get there, but if you’ve already arrived, might as well stay if there isn’t anything better to do.
Review Score: 65