Look, there’s nothing in Alexander Yellen’s Finders Keepers you haven’t seen before. The 2014 made-for-TV movie features a story by Jeffrey Schenck and a screenplay by Peter Sullivan and ticks off all of the boxes in the creepy-kid-has-creepy-doll subgenre.
From the Child’s Play movies to 2014’s Annabelle, kids with dolls have made for interesting if incoherent horror fodder. There’s something compelling about the desecration of innocence, about something designed for play and amusement tarnished into a force of darkness. And there’s something about inorganic objects running around with butcher knives.
Finders Keepers stars Jaime Pressly as single mother Alyson. She’s raising Claire (Kylie Rogers) and has just moved into a new house. Claire comes across a mysterious doll left behind by the previous occupants of the home and forms an attachment.
The girl starts acting out and people start croaking, including the “work friend” of Claire’s father (Patrick Muldoon) and the cat-loving neighbour (Marina Sirtis). Alyson takes Claire to Dr. Freeman (Tobin Bell), who wonders if the girl’s a psychopath. It’s revealed that the doll is actually a muñeca quitapena or “trouble doll.” Oh, and Claire’s connection to it may have dire consequences.
In real life, trouble dolls were given to Mexican and Guatemalan children under the pretext that the kid would tell the doll his or her concerns. The doll would be hidden under the pillow at night and the child would “sleep over” his or her anxieties, with the muñeca quitapena doing the existential heavy lifting in the meantime.
There is no such worry in Finders Keepers and the muñeca quitapena doesn’t have a lot of purpose beyond the murderous. There’s a lot of navy mysticism attached to the thing and Claire’s attachment comes out of some hackneyed backstory that involves a teenager in an asylum and the usual trope of killing a whole family on account of a demon doll.
It’s true that Claire has been made to suffer, as kids do, under the weight of her parents’ divorce. She doesn’t like any interlopers and screams about not loving either parent, but there’s no real connection to the girl’s genuine emotions. The doll arrives and she starts acting out. Period.
So the worry doll is essentially an excuse to depict a pile of moderate murder scenes, some of which are better than others. Sometimes Finders Keepers succeeds by going over the top, like when dad’s “friend” nosedives out of a window or when the Claire pulls the wings off a mound of CGI flies.
Sure, the movie could’ve involved more psychology. And it could’ve made the events actually matter. But emotional resonance isn’t the purview of Finders Keepers and the actors are game enough to let things pass without so much as a ripple. Most deaths are brushed over with a shrug and nothing really seems to sink in until the closing sequence.
And yet there’s an easiness to Finders Keepers that somehow makes it, at the very least, unobjectionable. The pacing is fine, the acting is fine, the effects are fine, the cinematography by Yellen is fine. And in terms of made-for-TV horror pictures, sometimes it’s enough to just be okay.