Director: John R. Leonetti
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard, Eric Ladin
RunTime: 1 hr 39 mins
Rating: PG13 (Horror)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: http://annabellemovie.com
Opening Day: 2 October 2014
Synopsis: John Form has found the perfect gift for his expectant wife, Mia — a beautiful, rare vintage doll in a pure white wedding dress. But Mia’s delight with Annabelle doesn’t last long. On one horrific night, their home is invaded by members of a satanic cult, who violently attack the couple. Spilled blood and terror are not all they leave behind. The cultists have conjured an entity so malevolent that nothing they did will compare to the sinister conduit to the damned that is now...Annabelle.
Whereas ‘The Conjuring’ rode on a wave of overwhelmingly positive test screenings to secure a prime release date in summer last year, ‘Annabelle’ seems to have taken the opposite route. Screened late or in some territories never for critics and audiences alike, it almost seems as if the producers want to keep the movie locked up – like the real-life ‘Raggedy Ann’ doll of the same name from which this was inspired – in a glass cabinet. And yet, the reason for their reluctance to unveil ‘Annabelle’ in the same way that they did for ‘The Conjuring’ is plainly simple once you’ve seen the former.
First things first, ‘The Conjuring’s’ James Wan doesn’t return to direct ‘Annabelle’; the Malaysian-born director serves only as a producer here and instead has relinquished the reins to his director of photography on the former, John R. Leonetti. Neither is ‘Annabelle’ scripted by the writers of ‘The Conjuring’, who – if it’s any relief to fans of the original – are returning for the direct sequel ‘The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist’ due next year; instead, that credit falls here to Gary Dauberman, whose filmography before this consists of dubious direct-to-video titles like ‘In the Spider’s Web’ and ‘Swamp Monkey’. The point we’re trying to make? Don’t expect the same pedigree as ‘The Conjuring’, because there just isn’t.
It’s unfortunate that ‘Annabelle’ gets immediately compared with the far-superior ‘The Conjuring’; though, to be fair, that association is something the studio has put out prominently in order to garner attention from fans of the latter. On its own, ‘Annabelle’ is a pretty average genre exercise that should satisfy those looking for a horror fix; but when you lay it next to ‘The Conjuring’, then this in-name prequel just is utterly inferior, and probably no more than an attempt to cash in on its predecessor’s success to get more people into the cinema. Heck, they couldn’t even get Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga to cameo in the scene where their characters, Ed and Lorraine Warren, frm ‘The Conjuring’ are clearly referenced.
Since ‘The Conjuring’ is set in the mid-1970s, ‘Annabelle’ sets itself about a decade before, when medical school student John (Ward Horton) and his wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis) are a young couple living in a quiet suburban neighbourhood and expecting a baby. Mia is a doll collector, and Annabelle is John’s surprise present to her to complete her antique doll collection – though why one naturally wonders just why anyone would want a creepy looking thing like Annabelle in their home. Anyhow, on the night they learn of the Manson family murders (Google that if you’re keen for more information), their home is invaded by the daughter of their next-door neighbour.
A Satanic hippie best described as a crazed demon worshipper, she and her boyfriend have just murdered her parents before proceeding to try to do the same with John and Mia. But the police arrive, and in the melee that follows, her boyfriend is shot dead while she slits her throat such that her blood gets into the titular creepy doll. None of this is a spoiler, since you already can see most of it from the trailer. After some weird and dangerous things happen in that house (from the usual moving of furniture to slamming of doors and leading up to the kitchen catching fire), John and Mia move into a new apartment in a new town, where John is to complete his residency.
Needless to say, Annabelle follows them to the new place, and while John is away, proceeds to terrorise Mia as well as their newborn baby daughter. Who do the couple turn to? Well, as clichés go, John looks to a local elderly priest (Tony Amendola), while Mia confides in the eccentric black woman (Alfre Woodard) who runs a bookstore down the street with a convenient occult section. The entity responsible for the paranormal activities? It’s a demon; and before you can say ‘exorcism’, Father Perez (conveniently) turns into the eager exorcist who tries to rid the demon from the doll – and if you need any clue as to how that turns out, well just re-watch the opening sequence from ‘The Conjuring’.
None of what happens is particularly scary in and of itself, because instead of the nice slow-burn type of atmospheric dread that ‘The Conjuring’ traded in, Leonetti insists on hitting his audience over their heads with repeated ‘boo!’ scares which are akin to the genre’s junk food. Yes, if you’re well versed in the genre, this is more about things jumping out at you at various moments – accompanied by appropriately sudden sound effects – than any genuine tension or fear. It is cheap to say the least, and lazy if you compare it against the well-crafted sequences which made ‘The Conjuring’ such a success in the first place.
It doesn’t help that Dauberman’s script plagiarises elements from all the horror classics we’ve known – from the helpless mother to her logical companion to the local priest who doesn’t need a permit from the Vatican to decide he wants to take on the demon to the peculiar black lady who actually knows a thing or two about the demonic stuff she keeps ranting about. There is nothing here that transcends genre mediocrity, and Leonetti’s reliance on the frights of the lowest denominator doesn’t help one bit.
Like we said, though the producers of ‘Annabelle’ would gladly like for their film to be related with ‘The Conjuring’, that association is a double-edged sword. It will get fans in no doubt, but whether it leaves them satiated in the same ‘scared stiff’ way ‘The Conjuring’ did is clear – it won’t. What that means in terms of goodwill for ‘The Conjuring’ franchise in general is still suspect; but here’s something we do know – ‘Annabelle’ is no ‘Conjuring’, and at its best, is a thoroughly mediocre genre exercise that is good for Halloween but little else.
(A far inferior prequel to ‘The Conjuring’, this is a cash-grab exercise in mediocrity that trades in cheap scares than any genuine fear or tension)