If you’re making a horror film today, you’ve got to differentiate yourself from your competitors in a glutted field.  An easy way to do this is by being ambitious with your subgenres and combining different elements to create your own unique hybrid under the horror banner. The Devil’s Dolls is a recent example of such a film, mixing devdolls-bluslasher movie elements with possession horror and a chaser of voodoo.  It also reveals that juggling that many elements in a single story can be a challenge.

The Devil’s Dolls begins with cop Matt (co-writer Christopher Wiehl) taking down Henry (Matty Ferraro), a serial killer, before he can kill his latest victim.  Unfortunately, Henry’s evil lives on a series of “worry dolls” he created using the teachings of Della (Tina Lifford), a voodoo practitioner.  These dolls accidentally fall into the hands of Chloe (Kennedy Brice), Matt’s daughter, who uses them as charms in necklaces and bracelets.  Unfortunately, these dolls magnify the fears of those wearing them and drive them to homicidal madness.  Matt and his partner Darcy (Kym Jackson) have to stop this evil as the victims pile up and Chloe’s life hangs in the balance.

As the above synopsis suggests, The Devil’s Dolls has a busy, almost novelistic plot for a movie that is a mere 85 minutes with credits.  The results often feel both overplotted and under-realized, with a series of stock characterizations that get spread thin due to the demands of the plot and a lack of time to develop both the characters and the horror concepts in interesting ways.

There’s also some noteworthy plot holes that the story tries to breeze past, like how a veteran cop could be so careless with evidence from a murder scene that it ends up in his daughter’s hands and how the whole setup with the serial killer becomes pointless once we realize the dolls are causing the horror and not his malevolent spirit.

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On the plus side, director Padraig Reynolds gives this indie effort a professional visual gloss, keeps the plot rolling steadily forward and isn’t afraid to get rough (and bloody) when his story calls for it.  Unfortunately, his handling of the cast is merely so-so, with a number of scenes where characters curiously under-react to shocking sights, and his efforts can’t counteract how jumbled the storyline gets in its final half-hour.

The end result has some interesting stylistic flourishes but ultimately has too much going on and not enough time to develop it into anything above a muddled if busy horror potboiler.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory recently released this IFC Midnight title to blu-ray.  The photography looks appropriately colorful and detailed here and the 5.1 lossless stereo mix is nicely layered for those with multi-speaker capability.

A few extras are also included.  The biggest is a commentary track with Reynolds and Wiehl, who offer plentiful details on the cast and the challenges of the shoot in a loose, amiable manner.  The package is rounded out by storyboards for a trio of scenes, an animated image gallery that shows off the “worry dolls” and a trailer.