Director Michael Crum returns with a loose sequel to his previous supernatural comedy creeper, Anna (2017), and this time he’s brought in what worked, tinkered with other ideas and sacrificed some sanity along the way to make a worthwhile follow up. That last part will make sense eventually, but for now: read on…
Anna 2: Freaky Links is Crum’s sophomore foray to form a possible franchise, and this entry shows some polish. The film follows the same feel and style, but with improved special effects and greater focus on atmosphere, although the only caveat for viewers is a jarring and sometimes confusing watch – like figuring out which characters are where and what is happening to them.
One fact to keep in mind is that this film was made on a budget of $30 000. Micro-budget films are a thing of fascination because they test the director’s abilities in being innovative and squeezing the greatest entertainment value out of their immediate resources. The most iconic films were created with little in the bank – The Blair Witch Project was made with double the aforementioned amount.
The plot of Anna 2 revolves around two wannabe YouTube ghost hunters, Jacob and Shawn (played by Justin Duncan and Gerald Crum, respectively), who team up with friendly rival paranormal investigators, Lace and Rob (Mercedes Peterson and John Charles Dickson) to check out a supposedly haunted amusement park nearby. Oh, and it has a portal to that extremely hot place where all the dead rock stars and politicians go. It’s a tried and tested horror trope, but let’s focus here.
You wonder: “Do I need to watch Anna in order to understand or appreciate this movie?”
I say: “No, there is some character background, but that is inconsequential to the overall plot – although early on you do get telling snippets from Jacob and Shawn’s previous venture.”
Anna 2 has some comedic moments such as portraying paranormal investigation and the crew as a ditzy, esoteric Three Stooges act; such as one character making holy water by placing a bible in a foot bath. However, the laughs soon disappear and then the film becomes a dragged-out creepathon, relying heavily on the dread lurching from scene to scene.
Scarce humour aside, this film should have come with a counter in the upper right frame corner to show a break-down of tallying costs – purely to entertain the subconscious thought of “How much did that cost?”.
Speaking of effects, miniatures were used in this film: a carousel, a car, and a rollercoaster (pictured above). You get an overarching view of the latter in a far away, cleverly-edited shot (below) inside the first half-hour, but only for a few seconds. They’re barely noticeable, but do offer handy and cost-effective stand-ins. Waste not, want not.
What must be commended is the creature design and the crew’s foley work. The one creature resembles the third-degree burns sister of internet spooksation, Momo, and the sounds accompanying the demons are as unearthly, as they are visually unsettling. You get brief flashes that could easily remind you of the rapid-twitching monstrous delusions in Jacob’s Ladder.
There were points that gave off Silent Hill vibes due to the hellish monsters in conjunction with the dilapidated sets – one the occasional instances in which circumstances just happened to click organically, such as the bloodied people who dance around one of the characters at a point, not to mention the run-down feel of where they are adds to the decaying decor and overall unease.
Speaking of decor, Anna 2 is dark. In this regard, we are not talking about the content, but the lighting itself. You can easily hide and enhance your monstrosity for the audience, making for an appropriately-timed peekaboo. On the other hand, it hides what is happening and leaves your viewers peering into the poorly lit scenes, hoping to make out what is on screen, such as enjoying the demons and the instances of agony the characters endure.
You can’t disguise how grating the script gets as the film rambles along. It loses sight of itself at several points and you become disorientated; one minute you’re wondering why a character is in the middle of a body of water, hearing a child’s voice then you’re whisked away to another scene of screaming. You’re still processing what you just saw and overloaded with more information, juking your emotional response.
Another drawback is that you can tell that the special effects department got the lion’s share of the film budget, and not set design. The “amusement park” is just a few shacks with nothing fun to do in sight, which leads to perhaps my greatest gripe: there are no rides, nor was anything ridden (unless you count your suspension of belief being taken for a trip).
On a more serious (and slight nit-picky) note: The possessed doll from which the film gains its name does not feature at all. Does it matter? If you’re a stickler like I am, then it does. Otherwise, it’s a good excuse to give our hapless characters a golden ticket to Hell and see what ensues.
When the team unwittingly enters the park, they step outside of reality and all sense, but you feel your senses get sent from pillar to post. This low budget horror makes sacrifices where it can, but mercifully the special effects compensate. A befuddled plot driven by beautiful characters being tormented by nightmarish things makes for entertainment, but only with the right mood. That is not to say you won’t enjoy it, but you will be distracted for little over an hour and 30 minutes.
Random thought: all the cast members wrapped in saran (Satan?) wrap by Hell’s minions kept reminding me of Twin Peaks. You almost expect Laura Palmer to cameo at some point.
Anna 2: Freaky Links was released on 8 July 2019, and will be available on all major streaming channels within 90 days.