Studio: Warner Bros.
Director: John R. Leonetti
Writer: Gary Dauberman
Producer: Peter Safran
Stars: Katie Cassidy, Elizabeth Henstridge, Adam Campbell, Miles Fisher, Jane Kaczmarek, Chris Mulkey, Spencer Daniels, Lucas Adams, Eric Ladin, Arlen Escarpeta
Unknown intruders terrorize four friends in a Los Angeles canyon home during the Summer of Love.
Two of the more popularly remembered moments from “Annabelle” (review here) involve the black bassinet in the basement and the suddenly growing ghost running toward a swinging door. Personally, the scene that sucked me in was the harrowing home invasion, making no secret of its Manson Family murders influence, that opened the show. Straight out of the gate, “Annabelle” strode into a strong sequence that was dark, nerve rattling, and tuned to set a terrifying throwback tone.
So I certainly understand where Warner Brothers and New Line were coming from when they reteamed “Annabelle’s” top trio of director John R. Leonetti, writer Gary Dauberman, and producer Peter Safran to extend that segment to feature length with a full-on dramatization of the night Sharon Tate and company were killed. Sharp-eyed fans may also recognize Eric Ladin reprising his role as Detective Clarkin with a brief cameo here, effectively making “Wolves at the Door” a tenuously-connected companion to “Annabelle.”
Like me, I’m sure everyone involved thought this seemed like a sound starting point for a successful, or at least somewhat scary, horror film. Judging by the sudden dump to VOD with hardly a peep to announce its release, it’s safe to assume that, also like me, everyone regrettably realized the finished film fumbled these creative ingredients all over the floor. Because despite its associated talent and underlying concept, “Wolves at the Door” defines a spectacularly disappointing misfire.
From start to finish, nearly nothing works in this thin thriller. There is a premise involving unknown intruders stalking five people around a Los Angeles property one August evening in 1969, but it is all setup and no story.
Character development consists of a sidebar involving Abigail’s impending move back to Boston and her boyfriend Wojciech being upset over her motivation for leaving. Of the other two corners composing the movie’s main square, the most we know about Sharon is she is a pregnant actress and Jay likes to laugh at fireworks labels before falling asleep on the couch. The only other thing happening anywhere is a clean-cut hippie selling a stoner hippie a stereo in an adjacent guesthouse. These aren’t people. These are pincushions for blades about to draw blood.
Desperate to capture some of “The Strangers’” home invasion black magic, the unidentified killers are only seen in silhouette. There is almost some nobility in favoring focus on the victims instead of on the attackers, except without even creepy masks creating some kind of character, these antagonists are nebulous nemeses without identity. They can’t seep into the psyche or crawl under the skin when they are only hollow hands holding knives or hauling bodies around by their hair.
Threadbare trappings leave the film vulnerable to its own simplicity. Content is so scarce that dialogue throws its hands up with lines like, “John! There’s someone out there!” It makes no sense why anyone would say something so cracker-dry while looking out a window, especially given that this occurs after someone has already broken into the house and come to the bedroom door. On the other hand, if the obvious wasn’t stated out loud, no one would have anything to say.
Jane Kaczmarek and Chris Mulkey are thrown away in a pointless prologue whose greatest contribution is pushing the total runtime to just barely over an hour. A “Where Are They Now?” text epilogue feels so similarly ancillary, you get the feeling the team realized “Wolves at the Door” was better off as that single scene in “Annabelle,” as they ran out of material to stretch their slim ideas into a full film.
Maybe James Wan’s absence on this go was the missing movie magic that made “Annabelle” work in ways this effort doesn’t. “Wolves at the Door” undoubtedly sounded solid in formula form on paper. In failed physical experiment form, it doesn’t have the depth or the dread to conjure a personality out of its Manson murder origins.
Review Score: 35