28th Aug2015

Frightfest 2015: ‘Worry Dolls’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Christopher Wiehl, Kym Jackson, Tina Lifford, Samantha Smith, Yohance Myles, Kennedy Brice, Brea Grant, R. Brandon Johnson | Written by Danny Kolker, Christopher Wiehl | Directed by Padraig Reynolds

worry-dolls-screen

It’s been quite some time since I saw Padraig Reynolds’ debut feature Rites of Spring back at Glasgow Frightfest 2012 and since then Reynolds has been pretty silent on the directing front. However, being a huge fan of that film there was no way I was passing up the chance to see yet another slice of Reynolds’ particular style of Southern Gothic.

Much like Rites of Spring mixed genres, taking in crime drama and traditional stalk and slash horror, by way of Southern horror like Jeepers Creepers; Worry Dolls mixes old-school voodoo with the tropes of classic 80s slashers (yes, this is yet ANOTHER Frightfest movie to utilise the sterotypes of the slasher genre) in a tale that – like Last Girl Standing – opens its story at the end of another as a  brutal serial killer is finally gunned down in the middle of carrying out one last heinous act of bloody murder.

However its not all over for the detective team working the case… In the maniac’s possession are a box of Guatemalan talismans, which mistakenly end up in the hands of Chloe, the daughter of one of the cops, Matt, who turns them into jewellery to sell in her mothers store. Soon those who bought the worry dolls begin to act strangely out of character and cause another rash of senseless slaughter, as the dolls ancient curse spreads across the city – including to Matt’s 8 year-old daughter, threatening her very life.

Despite featuring prominently in the genre’s history, voodoo is very much a forgotten part of modern horror. You get the odd film like the fantastic Jessabelle or, on the other hand, the awful Voodoo Possession. But for the most part voodoo is a no-go subject for horror filmmakers. Which is probably why Reynolds and co. chose to weave in the tropes of the slasher genre in their latest movie, Worry Dolls.

I remember the Q&A after Rites of Spring, where Reynolds discussed his love for slasher movies – which clearly infliuenced that film – and that love has also spread into the DNA of Worry Dolls. There’s a HUGE nod to The Burning, with a death by shears that mirrors that classic kill, and the cover art, of that 1981 slasher. The opening scene, somewhat disconnected from the rest of the movie, screams Slumber Party Massacre (though Reynolds said its mere coincidence that both films feature deaths by massive power drill); and those are just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet for all the slasher trappings Worry Dolls is, at its core, a story about family. A bond between father and daughter and the sacrifices (in this case literally) parents make in the name of our children. Like all good horror the redemption comes from love and – for once – the good guys win. Though the film makes it abundantly clear that this story is not over… But then neither was Rites of Spring and I’m still waiting for a sequel almost 4 years later!

If there’s any issue with Worry Dolls, it’s that the plot is slight. However what the film lacks in that department it makes up for in balls to the wall action and horror. Plus the deft storytelling and pace of the edit means that there’s little time to catch your breath. And that pace keeps on getting tighter, as the deadline for Matt to save his daughter looms, so much so that come the conclusion the sense of relief in the characters is reflected in the audience.

What could have been nothing more than a star vehicle for the films writer, actor Christopher Wiel – who’ll be a familiar face to US TV fans – Worry Dolls is instead a well-crafted terror tale which not only marks Wiel as a great writing talent but also gladly continues Reynolds’ murderous cinematic trip through the backwoods of Mississippi – a world he seems to be incredibly comfortable with and one he can make look as beautiful as it is dangerous. A dichotomy I’d love to see him continue.

**** 4/5

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