A tale of cursed Guatemalan worry dolls, a serial killer finally brought down, a Mississippi voodoo shaman and a father desperately trying to save his daughter…all the ingredients for a rip-roaring horror/slasher flick, right?
Uh, well…unfortunately, no.
Director Padraig Reynolds (Rites of Spring) tries valiantly to breathe life into this pallid story, which is pretty much dead on arrival. Christopher Wiehl’s script (he also stars as the chief protagonist, local cop Matt) is full of holes: inconsistencies in plot, poor character development and a serious lack of suspense.
But the fatal flaw is this: it simply isn’t scary. The best scenes are packed into the trailer and the rest just don’t cut the mustard. No sudden jumps, no spine tingles, no peaking at the screen through tightly interlaced fingers…zilch. If the script is DOA, the film itself barely has a fluttering pulse.
Worry Dolls starts off ok. A girl is trying to escape from deranged serial killer Henry Leonard Bale. As she frantically gnaws at the rope binding her, Bale is in another room, frenziedly talking to a set of small wooden dolls one by one. A classic chase scene between victim and predator ends with a bang, and references ‘80s slasher films well. Gore galore is unleashed.
The cinematography of Adam Sampson evokes a Southern Gothic creepiness and is a highlight, particularly during the opening credits when images of backwoods Mississippi are montaged, overlayed with haunting, bluesy music. But, unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there.
Chloe (Kennedy Brice) is an anxious little girl who also happens to be Matt the cop’s daughter. Matt is estranged from the family, and on an impromptu visit tells Chloe to get something from his car. But Chloe instead takes some key evidence that Matt has just removed from the Bale crime scene – those Guatemalan worry dolls. She proceeds to make them into jewellery, which she sells in her mother’s shop. One by one, the buyers start to behave in random, brutal ways.
One of the central problems with Worry Dolls is the lack of suspense – the viewer is ahead of the story from the start. We know what the worry dolls are capable of and are just waiting for the characters to realise the same. Yawn. The plot is so transparent you can see right through it. Why would a cop who has, by his own admission, lived and breathed a serial killer case so obsessively it has ruined his marriage, leave a key piece of evidence from the murder scene in the car so that his daughter just happens to stumble upon it? Answer: when the writer can’t think of another way to get the story from point A to point B. The plot has many examples of this kind of lazy writing. And the acting is more wooden than the dolls.
Reynolds references other classic horrors in an obvious way: Chloe looks and behaves like a young Regan from The Exorcist when possessed, complete with milky eyes and mottled skin, and Jack Nicholson’s infamous “Here’s Johnny” moment from The Shining is attempted but doesn’t evoke even a tenth of the spine tingling terror of that classic scene.
While the potential was there to make a thrilling Southern Gothic horror with dark voodoo as its central motif, Worry Dolls somehow misses this opportunity. A pity, because the concept of cursed worry dolls and the terror they could unleash is a good one, and in the right hands could have been a tour de force of terror.
THE REEL SCORE: 4/10