There’s something deep seated and primitive about the belief in the supernatural power of dolls. From voodoo dolls to the golem of Jewish mysticism to more recent evil dolls like William Goldman’s terrifying ventriloquist dummy in Magic to Chucky from Child’s Play and creepy Annabelle from the horror series of the same name. Evil dolls with malicious intent have become somewhat of a horror trope they’re so darn popular.
Which is why the indie horror film Dolls needed to do something innovative with its storytelling; creepy dolls in the attic? That’s a yawner. But first time director Cuyle Carvin does a quite credible job with a story that takes a page from both The Shining and Inception as the protagonist writes a children’s book about the dolls even as they become more and more terrifying. Just as Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) loses his mind while writing his novel, though, so does Robert (Thomas Downey) find that his children’s tale is getting more and more alarming as it progresses.
The heart of the story is troubled teen Sammey (a terrific Trinity Simpson), who has walked out of the house of her oh-so-SoCal mother Lynn (Elise Muller) to come and live with Dad (Robert). But Robert’s wrestling with a drinking issue and his children’s book career is foundering as he moves into his parent’s abandoned home. Turns out his mother was found bizarrely murdered and the police have no idea what happened. Hint: evil dolls in the attic.
And then there are those creepy dolls. There are three of them and they live in the attic. Of course. I mean, where else would scary dolls live? Sammey and Robert constantly hear them running back and forth, but when they go up to check, the dolls are inanimate, stiff and lifeless. Until gradually the dolls actually do move from place to place, which, quite reasonably, causes Sammey great anxiety.
There are some classic morality elements in Dolls too, including the handsome young gardener James (Bret Green) who is seduced by 17yo Sammey but then receives his moral comeuppance as dictated by the genre. Crazy neighbor Margaret (Dee Wallace) knows the story behind the dolls, but candidly Wallace is awful in the role and delivers the least convincing performance of anyone in the cast. Which is odd, because she’s is a very experienced actor with almost 250 movie credits. She was much better in Cujo, ET and The Howling, to name but a few.
Still, this is low-budget indie horror, so the dolls never animate on camera, they just show up and we get strobe-like editing sequences to imply horrific action and violence. Which is nice; for a horror film it’s relatively bloodless. Does the story entirely make sense? Are the characters actions logical and rational? Of course not. But whatevah, Dolls is good entertainment for its sub-genre, so if you do happen to bump into it at a horror film fest or on a streaming channel, I encourage you to check it out.
Finally, from the parent perspective, this is a decent option for teen horror fans and maybe even a tough tween in the family. Younger than that? THey won’t understand what’s happening and, hey, don’t they have dolls staring at them while they go to sleep every night? Yikes.