The Conjuring is one of the best horror movies of the past decade and repeatedly viewings of it do nothing to diminish its ability to scare the bejeezus out of horror fans. James Wan created a suspenseful and terrifying tale that was based on a true story and featured terrific performances from Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Vera Farmiga, and Ron Livingston. Now, one of the creepy haunted objects from that film is the subject of a new spinoff/prequel in Annabelle directed by cinematographer John R. Leonetti. Unfortunately, as disturbing as the doll was in The Conjuring, it’s given a backstory in Annabelle that only provides occasional squeal-worthy moments.
Annabelle would have benefited from a return of James Wan behind the camera as he knows how to create the mood, letting the camera linger longer than most horror directors and not overplaying his hand with too many in-your-face moments. Wan also recognizes the need for lighter scenes within the drama, something sorely lacking in Annabelle (where is Leigh Whannell when you need him?). The level of tension throughout Annabelle hardly varies, rising only slightly in the final act. Annabelle doesn’t allow the audience a single scene to just breathe and that means when the most frightening moments do arrive, there’s almost no change in how they’re delivered and received. That’s not making nearly as much sense as I’d hoped, but it feels like you’re at this constant level of anticipation the whole film for something big that never really arrives.
The action in Annabelle takes place in the ’60s and centers around a young married couple anxiously awaiting the birth of their first child. John (Ward Horton) is going through his residency and his wife, Mia (Annabelle Wallis), is in the nesting stage, completing the nursery and keeping herself busy by sewing and watching TV. Mia has an extensive doll collection decorating the baby’s room, and her hubby surprises her with the one doll she hadn’t been able to locate to finish her collection: a bizarre looking doll that’s sure to scare the diaper off the baby even if a demon didn’t decide to take up residence inside its plastic skin.
The arrival of the demon which is talked about in The Conjuring is the result of two Manson cult-like followers who slaughter Mia and John’s next door neighbors and then break in and stab Mia with a knife that almost ends her pregnancy. John attempts to fight them off until the police are able to arrive and kill the psycho male assailant as the female slits her own throat while cradling the Annabelle doll. The psycho killers are devil worshippers who were trying to raise a demon, and as the blood from the woman drips onto the doll it becomes possessed. It starts off rather innocently by turning the sewing machine on in the middle of the night and escalates to Jiffy Pop cooking itself on the stove and setting the house on fire.
Deciding to distance themselves from where the killings occurred, they move to a new apartment and toss out Annabelle because Mia no longer wants it around to remind her of the attack. Somehow it ends up in a box in their new apartment and alarm bells should be ringing with the appearance of the doll, but for some reason Mia is fine with sticking it back on a shelf in the baby’s room, a decision she’ll come to regret quickly when it becomes obvious there’s something eerie going on and there’s no denying the doll is connected to unexplainable happenings in the house.
The Bottom Line:
Annabelle isn’t nearly as scary as The Conjuring, but there is a nice tip of the cap to Rosemary’s Baby with the lead character’s name and in how protective Mia is of her newborn, even going to the point of researching symbols and trying to learn more about the satanic cult the two psychos belonged to. Fortunately, Mia’s hubby is nothing like the husband in Rosemary’s Baby and actually believes his wife when she claims there’s something freaky going on.
There are a few jump-in-your-seat moments provided by some first-rate effects, but working against Annabelle is a script that’s littered with horror movie cliches. Also dragging the film down is the bland couple at the heart of the story. It’s difficult to care much about them or feel real sympathy for what they’re going through as neither display any real personality.
Annabelle will likely do well at the box office because of the success of The Conjuring and because the idea of finding out the backstory of that creepy doll will draw horror fans to theaters. But unlike The Conjuring, Annabelle is generic and forgettable.
Annabelle is rated R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror.
-By Rebecca Murray
Follow Us On: