Review – Robert the Doll

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Review – Robert the Doll
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Robert the Doll
Horror
Rating: NR
Prod. Company: North Bank Entertainment
Publisher: 4digital Media
January 5th, 2016
Release length: 1:30:00

According to the legend, Robert is a haunted doll that was given the son of the Otto family by a fired servant angry over the termination. The servant was fired by Mrs. Otto for supposedly seeing her practice black magic in the back yard. In the time immediately following the giving of the doll, strange things ranging from footsteps and laughter to attacking people at the worst began to happen. In the years, the doll has made its way to the East Martello Museum in Key West, and into the hearts of many paranormal fans and writers. With The Boy having recently come out, and Annabelle being another recent contribution to the possessed doll world, it was only a matter of time before this very doll got a direct film of its own. Enter writer/director Andrew Jones (The Last House on Cemetery Lane, The Amityville Asylum) and North Bank Entertainment to bring the 2015 film Robert the Doll to life. But is it something that rivals the two most recent major motion pictures from Hollywood, or is this nothing but a boring Child’s Play knock-off?

Right away, one of the biggest gripes to be had about this one is that it doesn’t even really feel like a movie, let alone a scary one. What appears on-screen literally seems to tread the line between lo-fi digital/hi-8 and a higher grade production value with just a little film grain. It’s hard to even begin to describe it, honestly. It’s like looking at a gritty low-budget film, but yet the presentation is similar to a British television series like Doctor Who. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s everything here, as it simply doesn’t set any sort of mood, atmosphere, or even geological location, the last being left up to things like accents and which side of the car is the driver’s side. Really, it looked so odd, I thought this was some lower budget spanish film in english with british actors and a crudely carved puppet that looks spot on for Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Spider-Man) crossed with Glen(da) from Seed of Chucky instead of the original Robert doll.

Thanks to very little atmosphere or even your where abouts established early on, the story itself really needed to be good to grip the viewer, and it simply wasn’t. The main problem here is that we are introduced to the fact that Robert is possessed in the very first few minutes of the film by a woman named Agatha (Judith Haley, Dark Vision, Hearts & Minds) actually explaining this to the now former tenants, which prompts Robert’s head to move and face the camera. This wouldn’t be so bad if most of the film that followed the new residents, the Otto family, wasn’t so focused on the mother, Jenny (Suzie Frances Garton, Heritage, The Befuddled Box of Betty Buttifint), having a mental condition that makes it hard for her to handle stress and tough situations, thus making her appear like she’s crazy in front of her husband Paul (Lee Bane, Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection, Theatre of Fear). Really, it’s a tragically missed opportunity due to removing the red herring right away, especially when Paul happens on the dark paintings later on in the film that could have been a nice cherry on the top of the unrecognized madness sunday.

The rest of the story is insanely basic. Something happens, Jenny blames Gene, Gene blames doll, Paul tells Jenny calm down, Jenny lashes out claiming he think’s she’s crazy and doesn’t support her, Paul admits defeats and just tries to move on with life. No joke, this is literally what the script boils down to after the Robert doll is factored in. Robert the Doll also takes the time to channel its inner Child’s Play quite often, though without the gore and craziness. Robert continues to do things in the house to stir up trouble, but mostly tormenting Jenny. These events include smearing red paint all over a painting she put about a week’s work into, and writing “die” on a mirror in lipstick. Other than that, the father isn’t really affected other than dealing with the overreacting wife that you see slowly take its toll on him.

There is a small kill count though. One woman is kicked down a flight of stairs in a manner that I swore I’d see Chucky riding a bike up to her and nudging her with the front tire. The execution, however, is painful. You know its coming, you know the woman knows something is happening, yet she just stands there waiting for it to happen instead of turning around or running down the stairs. Another is even murdered at a separate location during a cut away that was more in line with Family Guy than anything remotely serious. A lot of these events have red in them, and if the movie didn’t reveal the plot at the start, not to mention didn’t stop showing everything upfront like Robert staring down the railing at someone, you’d swear it was a visual cue like those commonly picked up on in The Sixth Sense, subliminally leading the viewer to think it really is Jenny. Sadly, this isn’t the case, but we do at least get practical effects, as cheap as they may appear. The appreciation for non-cg blood is always there, but painting a few lines on a forehead doesn’t make one believe someone was laying there bleeding for hours, nor do the few spatters from a baseball bat to the back of the head.

Really, much of what happens through the first sixty-five minutes is uneventful, though not always like straddling a cactus naked. There were times things felt like a overexaggerated slow burn, such as Jenny looking for the aforementioned lipstick and spending two minutes slowly looking at, then approaching, the Robert doll. There’s also a number of scenes where their son Gene (Flynn Allen, Night in a Hotel, Anathema) is just there to assert that Robert did it. In fact, there’s very little character development to him at all, and a lot of times you can’t help but wonder where he even is. If he wasn’t sitting there playing some really small handheld game, he was already laying down in bed, or getting tucked in at the very least. Really, other than to push the background of the Robert doll and that the spirit has attached himself to Gene and become incredibly protective, there’s really no need for him at all. Truthfully, it would have caused a lot more tension, not to mention tightened the writing up a little bit, had they just put Robert in the attic like Jenny wanted, leaving no scape goat for her to put the blame on and only further push the idea that her meds may not be working and she’s starting to lose her mind.

And then you have the random occurences that no one really seems to notice until too late. The worst of them is how they set up the climax. Robert and Gene are inseparable – or were told since there’s not a single scene of the two together anywhere else but the bedroom, and plenty of shots where Gene actually isn’t near the doll-like Agatha and the film told us he needed to be – yet later on Robert is put away elsewhere, and Gene never noticed. The only reason he knew at all was because his father told him. There’s also when Gene tells his father goodbye instead of goodnight, something that would set off any red flags to any parent, but he’s just left to go to his room alone, where, who knows, he may try to commit suicide or come back and kill his father over the whole moving Robert thing. The level of intelligence with these characters is almost non-existent half the time, and it’s just insulting to viewers.

But then there’s the acting and, really, it’s a mixed bag of bad. Of all people involved, Flynn Allen as Gene was the most believable, but this was due to how little screen time he received, leaving little room to actually do a poor job. Judith Haley as Agatha wasn’t a bad choice, though when she flips and becomes sinister, it’s hard to believe she even has it in her nature. It just seems like she’s trying to put on the intimidation factor according to the script, while reading said script, coming off blocky and unsure the whole time. The delivery of telling Jenny they will all be sorry for firing her is the only time you get a legit chill down your spine from her. Then there’s Lee Bane who honestly just seems to be sleep walking through the whole film, giving off one of the most monotone, relentlessly boring performances you’ll see in a while, which is a stark contrast compared to Suzie Frances Garton as Jenny who acts like she’s in some kind of daytime soap opera all the time, something that in no way benefits the character. Unless the goal was to make you hate her, then it worked.

This is a film that tries to take established lore from a documented paranormal case, throw a modern coat of paint on it, and claim it’s a movie. Yes, by all rights it is, but it simply doesn’t look, sound, or even feel like you’re watching a movie. Instead, it’s like you’re sitting down to watch an unfunny Halloween episode of Bob Newhart or Frasier that was shot in England. There was plenty of potential, but all of it was literally thrown away in the first few minutes, causing the next roughly seventy minutes to be a “wait for the ending” style film that concludes in a manner you see coming a mile away, so you don’t even get that joy to look forward to. Robert the Doll tries to be a family friendlier Child’s Play, and it fails on nearly every level of being even remotely spooky let alone memorable in any sort of positive light.

As a side note, a sequel to Robert the Doll is currently in post-production as I type this review, though the ending leaves how it progresses up for debate as to how it’s even possible. The Curse of Robert the Doll will be a real thing, possibly some time this year. Suzie Frances Garton reprises her role as Jenny, and Lee Bane returns, but with a different role. Flynn Allen will not be in this film either, which makes one wonder if the conclusion to Robert the Doll will even be honored, or if this follow-up with further make the first one you can gladly ignore for the sake of going all American Horror Story with the doll as it’s running theme interlocking the “seasons” of what might somehow actually become an underground franchise.


Initial Pressing Score: 3/10
Digital review copy of this release provided by personal funds.