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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Review: Doll Cemetery

Director: Steven M. Smith
Screenplay: Christopher Jolley and Steven M. Smith
Year: 2019

Synopsis: A successful writer goes to a secluded cabin to work on his next book. Once there, he receives a strange package that contains a doll the size of a child. Right after, strange things start to happen in the cabin that seems to be tied to the doll’s presence there.

Killer dolls have become a widely explored topic in horror films. The innocence they represent contrasts with their evil intentions and being associated with children offers a great conduit for creating innerving situations. This topic was popularized by no other than Chucky in “Child’s Play” and the saga that it gave way, followed by movies like “Dead Silence”, “Robert” or the “Annabelle” trilogy. This year alone, we’ve had two high-profile entries to this subgenre with “Child’s Play (2019)” and “Annabelle Comes Home”. Independent horror films have also adventured with dolls, as is the case of “Doll Cemetery”.

In “Doll Cemetery” we follow Brendan, a talented writer that finds himself going through a writer’s block as he’s trying to write his next book. His agent constantly pressures him to finish the book until he makes him go to a secluded cabin away from civilization so that he can concentrate and work. Once in the cabin, Brendan receives a package containing a strange doll the size of a child. Many strange things start happening in the cabin and Brendan thinks they are tied to the doll’s presence there.

Let’s start with the budget. This movie was made with an approximate $15,000, a total feat. With this number in mind, you can have an idea of the limitations that the production crew had to work around to get this movie done. A budget like this limits that the bulk of the movie falls into the script, the actors and plenty of creativity from the director.

The script, written by Christopher Jolley (“Remember Me”) and Steven M. Smith (“Haunted”), the latter who also directs this movie, doesn’t present a highly original story, but one that is entertaining. The plot is handled with good rhythm and there is always something happening to get the viewer’s attention. The actors, in general, have the intention of transmitting the emotions the story invites, but some are not so fortunate in achieving it. At least the protagonist Jon-Paul Gates (“The Haunting of Borley Rectory”), who is the one that spends the most time on screen, does a good enough job as to keep the rhythm of the story going. 

When we get to the director’s job, is when the limitations of the movie are shown more clearly. Early on its evident that filters are used to alter the colors of the scene whenever the doll is on screen but they are too present and end up working in detriment rather than in favor of these scenes. Also, the editing process is strange and sloppy, using recycled scenes and jumping from situation to situation with no sense, confusing the viewer. This could be a consequence of scenes that didn’t end up well and they couldn’t reshoot them because of the budget, but it’s still something that lowers the quality of the film and affects the viewer’s experience. 

“Doll Cemetery” manages to take a very tight budget and use it to make its final product look like it was made with four times that budget. Still, it can’t escape the problems that accompany most microbudget productions. In this case, they manifest in the editing and some acting, both being so evident that end up substantially affecting the final product. “Doll Cemetery” is not a bad movie, but neither puts anything too original and what it presents ends up being noticeably affected by its limitations.

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