Director: John R. Leonetti
Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Tony Amendola, Alfre Woodard, Kerry O’Malley
Before The Conjuring there was Annabelle
The Conjuring was the biggest horror film of 2013, praised by critics and moviegoers alike all over the world. The opening to that film contained a small story about a doll that had great evil within it, the doll was called Annabelle and the evil was fought by the paranormal investigator couple named Warrens. The doll is now safely (?) kept in their museum.
This opening got quite the response by people and it came to no one’s surprise that the doll would get its own movie, a spinoff of The Conjuring to feed us horror fans while we await the “real” sequel titled The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist (don’t be surprised if the story and title changes before release) – a film slated for a release October 2015.
Annabelle, just like The Conjuring, is also set in the past. This one is set in 1969 and revolves around the young couple John and Mia Gordon, who are expecting their first child together. Mia collects porcelain dolls and one day John gives her a special one that she has been looking for a long time.
The doll comes with an evil presence that are out to torment the family, especially targeting the pregnant Mia. The disturbances get more and more vicious after Mia gives birth to their baby girl Leah, making Mia become convinced that the evil forces are after their newborn baby.
There’s been all kinds of killer toy movies throughout the years of horror films. We’ve had evil ventriloquist dummies, evil puppets, evil dolls, you name it. Most of the times it has resulted in mediocre films (with a few exceptions), but the concept has worked much better as short stories in horror anthology films.
So the big challenge for the filmmakers behind this project was to replicate what worked in the opening scene of The Conjuring and expand it into a 90 minute feature. Did they succeed to do this with Annabelle? I would say no.
First off, and if you haven’t seen the film then this will be a minor spoiler, the film isn’t another killer doll movie. The evil entity in this film isn’t inside the dummy, but is rather using the dummy to cause the havoc that it desires. There’s actually a demonic force that are out to get Mia’s baby and the film plays out like it aswell. To make it very clear, the doll didn’t even really need to be in this film.
The doll doesn’t really do anything except make the viewer anticipate some sort of movement from it, a movement of the head or a blink, just something, but no. And it doesn’t help that the entire demonic entity / ghost angle is getting a bit tiresome by now, even for me who usually like that kind of stuff.
That being said, the film does have a few creepy scenes that are orchestrated nicely by director John R. Leonetti. Leonetti has mostly worked as a cinematographer in his career, including some excellent work together with James Wan on The Conjuring and the two Insidious films. He has also had a few directing jobs, including The Butterfly Effect 2 and Mortal Kombat 2: Annhilation. I guess it’s fair to say that he landed this job thanks to his work with Wan, who also served as a producer on this film.
As to be expected, the film looks nice visually and it does try to keep the same look as The Conjuring had, although there’s not as much fun camera movement as you get from a film directed by Wan himself. Some of the scare scenes are also set up quite nicely and it does provide enough jump scares for the younger audience to have fun. The pacing and narrative though is a bit choppy and fails in building and keeping up the tension, making the film never feel genuinely scary.
It doesn’t help that the script by Gary Dauberman is lacking either. Some of the choices are questionable, including the addition of the Evelyn character who just seems to be in the film to make the ending work. And speaking of the ending, it is very anti-climatic and I just hated it. There’s plenty of useless stuff in the story, the research Mia does regarding the satanic stuff doesn’t really go anywhere, neither does the cult aspect that borrows heavily from the real life Charles Manson story.
The chemistry between Mia and John are also lacking. John takes his sweet ass time getting involved in the actual torment that his wife goes through and he is hardly put through any supernatural attacks at all. Instead it is up to Mia to carry the film. She is played by the lovely actress (coincidence?) Annabelle Wallis, who does a good job with the little she is given. Ward Horton plays John and he also does an effort to make his character come to life.
Annabelle is a bit of a disappointment for me as it was my most anticipated horror film of 2014. It is not a terrible film, but it leaves you wanted way much more, especially if you have seen The Conjuring already. If, and hopefully it does, The Conjuring turns into a long-lasting franchise then I believe this spinoff will be forgotten as it is a mediocre horror film that has little new to offer.