The Asian Answer To The Conjuring?
There’s a certain instinctive uneasiness that comes from films about dolls coming to life. Whether it be the early Child’s Play films or the more recent Conjuring series with its many, many sequels, killer dolls have become a mainstay in horror films for decades. Step forward Indonesian Netflix film Sabrina which aims to bring an Asian flair to the killer doll trope. Unfortunately the film fails to conjure up any sort of originality, devolving into the standard horror beats you’d expect from a film like this, succumbing to the incessant need to bombast us with constant gore and fast-paced action, rather than building on the creepy atmosphere promised early on.
The story begins with couple Maira (Luna Maya) and Aiden (Christian Sugiono) living tentatively with their adopted daughter Vanya (Richelle Georgette Skornicki). As a present for her birthday, the couple give Vanya a custom made Sabrina doll, a wide-eyed, eerily creepy plaything which Aiden made whilst working at his toy factory. All seems well until Vanya, haunted by the memories of her deceased mother, enlists the help of a boy from school to call forth her mother’s spirit from the afterlife. Predictably things do not go to plan and what initially appears to be Vanya’s mother quickly turns into something much more sinister as the family fight for their lives against this powerful supernatural force.
For the most part, the film does keep up a consistent pacing and the horror segments are really well shot, helping to keep the story ticking along at a decent pace. Unfortunately, Sabrina slips up numerous times with its plot which quickly abandons the doll in favour of a practical-effect laden possession story. While this does work in terms of the narrative, it also feels a little misleading given the emphasis on the doll early on. While the doll itself does prove to be an important and key component of the film late on, most of the big horror set pieces don’t even involve the doll, instead focusing on the family fighting against possessions and outrunning a spirit hell bent on killing them all.
Overacting, melodramatic cries for help and numerous poorly spoken lines hold the film back from being a better title too. The film lacks a real cutting edge, relying far too heavily on its action-driven horror segments rather than using the excellent atmospheric horror Sabrina manages to craft early on. Seeing the doll’s eyes move ever so slightly and it pop in and out of frame in the background is a far more effective technique to building horror than seeing a blood-soaked, ratty woman screaming into the camera. It’s something the film fails to capitalise on and as such, slips into a much more formulaic and lacklustre thriller than it perhaps deserves to be.
When it comes to the list of horror films about killer dolls, Sabrina nestles itself nicely next to fellow disappointment, The Boy. Much like its American counterpart, there’s certainly promise here but its squandered by deviating from the main path it promises early on into mediocre, lacklustre waters. An abundance of poor acting certainly does nothing to help the credibility of the film either and despite some pretty slick camera work, Sabrina fails to inspire the enthusiasm and charm it so easily could have conjured with a more focused script.