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The second season of Hulu’s series of original films from Blumhouse and centered on the holiday of the month they’re released starts off on a sour note with the inert and annoying “Uncanny Annie,” a movie that only proves concept only gets you so far. Directed by Paul Davis, the same filmmaker who made last October’s offering, “Into the Dark: The Body,” this year’s Halloween horror looks particularly pale when compared to other possibilities for your holiday viewing marathon. Heck, even “The Body” would be a better choice. And when you look and see that Netflix is releasing a new horror film every Friday this month, including offerings by Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”), Ciaran Foy (“Sinister 2”), and Zak Hilditch (“1922”), you have to wonder what Hulu and Blumhouse are doing with “Into the Dark.” It’s beginning to seem that they are too often content to do the bare minimum of creative work to deliver something to the small screen.
What’s truly annoying about “Uncanny Annie” is how rock-solid the concept should be: it could be basically be pitched as “Horror Jumanji.” Imagine the possibilities with a bunch of teenagers finding a “Jumanji”-esque game that transports them into a night of horrors. It even recalls the hook of Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” in the discovery of something that opens a portal to another world, and it should be heavily influenced by the work of H.P. Lovecraft, but names like Barker and Lovecraft quickly fade away as you’re watching “Uncanny Annie,” a movie that takes its concept nowhere. Other than a few unearned character twists, there’s nothing that feels unexpected narratively, and there’s so little life in the filmmaking that it can’t make up for the dull characters or hackneyed dialogue.
A group of teenagers get together on Halloween both to celebrate and mourn a friend who died a year earlier. They all have a bit of baggage—two of them just broke up, for example—and wear some pretty mediocre Halloween costumes. As they’re loosening up for the evening, it’s suggested they play a board game, and one of the them stumbles upon one in the basement called Uncanny Annie, sort of a riff on Jumanji and the legend of Bloody Mary. Even the design of the game within the film is lackluster, mostly just a series of cards for the characters to read regarding a challenge like revealing a secret and what will happen if they refuse. It’s not long before they hear strange sounds in the house and realize the game’s stakes are real.
I have a high tolerance for bad dialogue—it comes with being a life-long horror fan—but “Uncanny Annie” really grates even on that level. The characters here are either yelling about what the game wants them to do or revealing the secrets unearthed by it, and none of it sounds remotely genuine. I’m not expecting too much depth in a movie like this, but these people are so one-note that you start to root for Annie. At least she’s got some personality.
Perhaps worst of all, "Uncanny Annie" is as visually flat as anything to date in the “Into the Dark” series. This is a collection of features that has been remarkably disappointing in terms of visual language—it’s hard to think of too many images over the course of now-13 films—but this one is a new low, often looking like a high school production in terms of design. The Blumhouse people changed the industry by making very profitable films with incredibly low budgets, and they often did so through a hook or concept. “Horror Jumanji” seems perfect for them—easy to keep the budget down and a concept that’s simple to convey. But even for Blumhouse, the films that have stood out have imagery and characters that linger. It’s impossible for a horror movie to haunt you if its creators can’t devise a single image or character worth remembering.