Monday, August 7, 2017

I'll Buy That For a Doll-ar

I've often written about The Asylum and its occasional knack for churning out surprisingly high quality ripoffs of bigger budgeted horror. For every dozen quickies like Sunday School Musical and A Haunting In Salem, there's that one Paranormal Entity that manages to still be a made-in-one-week-after-the-trailer-for-a-sure-to-be-hit-movie rolled out that somehow makes you say, "Hey, that wasn't so bad."

Like 2011's The Ouija Experiment, today's Heidi is not actually an Asylum property, but from the cover and synopsis, you'd be forgiven for making that mistake. Just look at the artwork here:

And the actual doll featured in the film:

Clearly, Heidi's producers are hoping you'd see the title go by and say, "Oh, that's the spin-off to The Conjuring, right?" Based on its 2014 date, it's hard to know whether Heidi was made before, after, or alongside Annabelle. Much like that film, it centers on a haunted baby doll that doesn't follow the standard conventions of wide-talking Good Guys or stabby tiny porcelain-hand cinema. And despite my instincts and opinion of the first hour of this low budget indie, much like Annabelle, it shockingly works.

Quick Plot: Teens Ryan and Jack do that thing that teens in the 21st century apparently do all the time: record every moment of their lives on videocameras and GoPros. When Ryan gets a gig housesitting for an eccentric neighbor, they see big potential in incorporating a mysteriously unbranded doll found in the attic into their antics. As you might surmise, the doll is named Heidi, and she does not like to be hugged.

Before long, a wave of bizarre violence is spreading through Ryan's life. Aforementioned neighbor (and her poor pet birds) turn up dead, while Jack's massive house party ends in carnage when he and his younger brother are found gutted. We don't have to pull up our bookmark for to know the fate of Ryan's sweet cocker spaniel.

Written and directed on what I assume to be a minuscule budget by newcomer Daniel Ray, Heidi is a weirdly fascinating little found footage tale that either found its footing as it went or is secretly one of the smartest horror films I've seen in quite a while. Like almost every handheld teen-centric indie of recent years, it starts with insufferable leads with racist undertones and yet somehow, 90 minutes later, I found myself thinking, "this was kind of fantastic"

I am as shocked as you are. 

Ryan (Samuel Brian) is nothing special. Like almost every found footage film made in recent years, he's a middle class white kid without a clever bone in his body who tends to say, "what the f*ck?" over and over again when investigating strange occurrences without turning on the light switch. 

And yet...

Look, I'm not really ready to say that Heidi is a great horror film. The acting never really clicks in place, the dialogue is often squirm-worthy, and the characters make some incredibly dumb decisions along the way. But at a very particular point about one hour in, I found myself realizing that I was fully invested in the action. Like Annabelle, this is a film that successfully creates a villain without ever really showing it act. We KNOW Heidi is evil because, you know, we're watching a horror movie called Heidi, but you do have to extend some respect to a no-budget movie that manages to get you to that place of discomfort without giving you the goods. 

When I watched the truly devastating Megan Is Missing a few years ago, I found myself admiring how skillfully the filmmaker had reverse Trojan horse'd me, introducing fairly awful teenage characters that I gritted my teeth at, only to slowly reel me in to the deeper, sadder lives these girls were actually living. Heidi doesn't do this with its characters (who ultimately go from insufferable to tolerable), but it kind of does with its actual storytelling. Did Ray and his team just get more comfortable in front of and behind the camera the longer they filmed, or was this the film's actual intent: trick its audience into expecting another found footage yawn, and slowly turn it into an actual compelling story?

I don’t want to oversell Heidi, but darnit: I enjoyed this film. Once I got past its initial sloppiness, I was genuinely involved in the story, and actually nervous about how it would play out. It’s certainly not for everyone, but as evil doll films go (something I might have a smidgen of experience with), it’s new, fresh, and shockingly, kind of scary.

High Points
Judge me if ye will, but that last got me

Low Points
There are plenty of things to pull apart in Heidi, and your ultimate decision to watch it in full will rest on your patience at getting through some 40 minutes or so of bland characters being kind of awful (and occasionally racist)

Lessons Learned
When organizing a home rave, don't skimp on the bouncer. A quality door man will really take your party to the next level

If you think that a doll is evil and responsible for the death of several people close to you, maybe you should do something more permanent than simply sitting it down in your closet and closing the door

As of 2014, teenagers still use the term “boo yah”

The Winning Line
"His friend, a fellow prankster, was unavailable for comment," is not a comment usually made by a newscaster when reporting on the mysterious death of a teenager. But it sure helps move some exposition along!


It's hard to come out and fully say with confidence that I recommend Heidi (currently streaming on Amazon Prime). Those who have issues with found footage or amateur horror may not make it very far, even with a slim 90 minute run time. But as someone who OFTEN has problems with these kinds of films, allow me to say: give Heidi a chance. Credit to writer/director Daniel Ray and his team. I don’t know how much was intended and how much just sorta happened, but the end result satisfied me.


  1. I watched this based on your recommendation here and found Heidi a pleasant surprise after an iffy first half. Some sequences were actually gripping, though the newscasts and ballet dancing were a little excessive. (Also, if I were convinced a doll was an evil supernatural force, I wouldn't throw it around so disrespectfully.) Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. Yay! I'm glad it wasn't just me. And yes, the way the kid and his girlfriend manhandled and/or kept placing the doll in an insecure location was KILLING me.

      Thanks for letting me know your thoughts! I was super curious how this was landing for others.