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Film Review: Annabelle (2014)
In 2013 Director James Wan released his cinematic presentation of the alleged true story of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, and their fight to rid a likable Rhode Island family from an evil entity haunting their farmhouse.
Despite its predictable plot, lack of originality, abundance of horror movie cliches and completely forgettable plot twists, the film was generally well received from many critics and moviegoers alike.
As you can probably tell from the above rant I was not a major fan of the The Conjuring.
To the film's credit there were some major scares and legitimately creepy moments, decent suspense, thick horror atmosphere and solid acting across the board.
To its detriment however I found this 'true story' to be derivative, predictable, entirely unoriginal and at times a little too reliant on jump scares and orchestral stings.
Though this film was based on a real paranormal investigation from 1971, for me it failed to elevate itself from generic and exhausted horror tropes. It was almost as if the film's menace had gone on a horror movie binge prior to wreaking havoc on the Perron family, and then having little imagination of its own just borrowed ideas from other horror stories and movies.
One of the creepiest elements of the movie however, didn't really have anything to do with the main plot. This of coarse was the demonic conduit known as Annabelle.
Like many people I find the idea of creepy little girls and possessed dolls as particularly potent forms of nightmare fuel. So it wasn't all that surprising when filmmakers decided to create a feature-length spin-off based purely on Annabelle, who combines both of these terrifying elements by appearing as a possessed doll with the appearance of a creepy little girl.
With Wan taking a backseat as a producer for this film, 'Annabelle' was directed by John R. Leonetti, a somewhat accomplished cinematographer with dozens of credits to his name including The Conjuring.
Well I really hate to take potshots at anyone, it should be noted that Leonetti also has a history of directing sequels that are far inferior to the original, with his only two directed movies being Mortal Kombat II: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2.
So does Leonetti manage to break this mold by delivering a prequel/sequel that achieves the same level of quality or greater than the original, or does it fall even below that bar of mediocrity?
This spin-off opens to the first scene from 'The Conjuring' in which Annabelle's spooky activities and status as a conduit for a demonic force are discussed. It provides us with a nice recap and re-introduction to the doll, setting the scene effectively for all Annabelle's creepiness and her potential for mayhem.
However if you were hoping to see Annabelle the Doll do something - anything - you're in for a real disappointment. I don't think she has more than 5 minutes of screen time in this 100 minute film and most of her appearances just involve the camera very slowly zooming in towards her, while she sits still looking evil but otherwise never moves.
By keeping her appearances sparse the filmmakers' less-is-more approach seems to aim for more of an insidious, subtle and psychological type of horror. It was almost as if Leonetti was banking on the hope that Annabelle's eeriness and sinister presence would never wear itself out and with the suggestion of demonic possession would be enough to unnerve most moviegoers even without seeing the doll do anything to demonstrate its evil.
Unfortunately horror requires a little bit more effort and finesse than simply showing a creepy doll sitting on a rocking chair drenched in eerie lighting and backed with ominous music. All those elements work well enough to help create atmosphere, but that's all the movie does - it sets the mood but then delivers almost nothing else.
Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Wicker Man (1973), The Blair Witch Project (1999) and many other films have demonstrated that atmosphere, often when accompanied by ambiguous characters and a potentially threatening environment, is enough to evoke immersion, fear and unease. Unfortunately 'Annabelle' doesn't quite reach the same heights, being held down by terrible pacing and an incredibly dull script by Gary Dauberman.
Rather than focusing on something potentially interesting like a real-life doll that many people claim is a conduit for the forces of evil, we're instead treated to the mundane activities of the incredibly plain and generic ensemble.
Taking place in 1969, the protagonists of this entirely fictional prequel are John and Mia Form (played by Warden Horton and Annabelle Wallis) a young couple who are expecting their first child. John is a know-it-all medical doctor who often gives his professional opinion when nobody asked for it and pregnant Mia generally stays at home while watching T.V reports about Charles Manson's cult 'The Family' and sewing haphazardly.
It's hard not to look on in disbelief at Mia's joy when John gives her Annabelle, a present that would see most people reel back in horror and confusion, but for Mia it fits perfectly with the demonic vintage doll collection that she keeps for some reason.
Things start going downhill after a pair of homicidal cultists enter their home and in the subsequent tussle, one of the intruders uses dark magic to bind her spirit and that of a soul-hungry demon to the doll.
Instead of opening the door for all sorts of havoc-wreaking terror, this shocking scene is followed by even more dull interactions with even blander characters, such as a cliched priest (played by Tony Amendola); an entirely uninteresting detective (played Eric Laden); and a librarian (portrayed by Alfre Woodard) whose presence is completely pointless other than a couple of overly contrived moments.
These underdeveloped characters have a single purpose of simply spewing exposition, information and advice, while never really coming into their own or building any sort of believable relationship with John and Mia.
Boring character interactions and painfully predictable dialogue make up most of the film's first hour, with barely any paranormal activity occurring within the first 40 minutes, other than a scene where the evil entities burn some popcorn on the stove and set the kitchen on fire. Despite the dramatic music, the sight of burning popcorn doesn't really evoke much panic or fear, even with Mia sitting just in the next room unaware of this peril until half the house is ablaze.
When the film actually starts picking up pace in the second half, the movie's scares may seem predictable and unoriginal to anyone familiar with the horror genre. Though there are a couple of decent horror moments that are likely to make some people jump, neither these scenes nor the film's overall atmosphere measure up to anything that we experienced in The Conjuring.
Despite Annabelle the Doll observing most of these events from the sidelines silently and motionlessly rather than taking a greater participatory role in the film that bears her name, I appreciate that the filmmakers avoided creating a 'Chucky' knock-off with a murderous, chaotic, wisecracking doll.
Annabelle's transformation through the film is also a nice touch, as she looks increasingly demented and sinister as the the plot progresses. This creepiness and eeriness are brought out further by excellent lighting and an effective musical score.
The performances from the cast are decent but largely held back by the script's trite dialogue and lack of experience from the director. Annabelle Wallis' performance as Mia was a particular standout, but this is mostly due to her character being the only one to display any emotion throughout this picture.
Overall 'Annabelle' suffers from a range of problems including a dull script, boring characters and very derivative horror tropes that we've seen before in other films, seemingly without any effort at originality.
What's really astounding about 'Annabelle' however is how boring the movie is. For a film regarding a demonically possessed doll one would expect at the very least a schlocky B-Grade horror romp that offers a reasonable degree of entertainment and fun. This film doesn't even manage to achieve that let alone match the horror from Wan's original movie.
Though Leonetti's 'Annabelle' isn't the worst to be released in recent years, it is one of the dullest, high budget supernatural flicks I've ever seen. If you're wanting to watch a movie about a demonic doll there are many movies that do it better, including The Conjuring during the few scenes in which Annabelle appears.
While it will definitely earn its fair share of fans, the best way to go into viewing 'Annabelle' is without any expectations and if possible with minimal exposure to other horror films. That way the film may at least seem fresh.
Final Word: Despite a few suspenseful moments, 'Annabelle' is a highly predictable and extremely boring horror movie, with tired concepts, underwhelming execution and a high degree of disappointment largely due to the star attraction, Annabelle the demonic doll, having such a minor presence in her own movie.
The entire film just feels pointless and unnecessary.