"'Annabelle' tries to tic boxes more than it attempts to innovate"
is another in a long line of clichéd horror films that offers little more than the worn-out “jump” gags and music induced suspense.
is the “prequel” to The Conjuring
, serving as a back story to the Annabelle doll that served as an exhibition to the film's lead characters, and their chosen profession. Apparently the doll had enough of an effect on the audience to warrant closer inspection, and voila... we have a standalone Annabelle
opens with the familiar back-story given in The Conjuring
: a group of young nurses have allowed a possessed doll to enter their lives, and are asked where they got it. Cue ninety-eight minute flashback. Medical school student, John (Ward Horton) gives his pregnant wife, Mia (Annabelle Wallis – clever move casting director) the shining jewel of her doll collection – a rare and sought-after porcelain doll. That night, their close friends and neighbors are victims of a grisly murder committed by their estranged daughter and her boyfriend. Doing what any level headed 1960's couple would do, John and Mia leave their house – front door completely ajar – and investigate. When John comes rushing out of the house covered in blood, Mia goes inside to call 911 (can you guess what happens next?). Caught completely off-guard by Annabelle and her boyfriend, Mia is stabbed in the stomach before John steps in to wrestle with the crazed hippies. The police arrive late, but per the formula, not too late, and shoot Annabelle's boyfriend. Annabelle has already slashed her own throat over the lifeless body of the prized doll, and a single drop of blood enters the doll, thereby completing the unknown demonic ritual.
The rest of the film follows the couple as a demon desperately (and successfully) terrorizes Mia and her baby. Director John R. Lionetti (The Conjuring
) does a respectable job of building tension in his individual scenes, and presenting a well-shot horror film. He relies heavily on the score to set the mood in individual scenes, and to get the audience to the edge of their seats. Offsetting some of the jumps from their expected cue in the score, makes some hit harder than others, but most still do their jobs, and send chills down your spine. He does insert some beautiful shots into the film (they serve no purpose in the exposition of the film, but they're beautiful), and has several transition shots that surprised me.
Horton and Wallis both do solid work at drawing audience empathy, and inhabiting their character's lives. While certainly not Oscar worthy performances, the two made me believe their fear and concern. The characters themselves tend to be very one-dimensional, and neither receive any special attention. Mia is portrayed as a bumbling and incompetent 1960's housewife, content to do the sewing while watching the television and generally neglecting her baby. Constantly fumbling with her keys and making appalling decisions based in panic and fear, she is the personification of misogyny in Hollywood writing. Always relying on her husband to do any of the “heavy-lifting” she gets willingly terrorized, and is written to have little-to-no practical intelligence.
While most of the jumps, the plot, and the characters are hackneyed, one jump was truly spectacular. In a scene in Mia and John's new house, there is a transition through a doorway, which was truly chilling. While it was something unlike anything I have yet seen, it hardly made up for the rest of the film. There were several references throughout the film, owing to nostalgia of classic horror films of the past. The baby carriage seems to be a replica of the iconic one used in Rosemary's Baby
, and a consultation with a priest reminiscent of The Exorcist
. There are many more call-backs, and I found myself looking for them to stay occupied through much of the film's second and third acts.
is no revolutionary piece of horror filmmaking, it certainly isn't poorly acted B horror trash that has plagued Hollywood recently. With several pleasant surprises, and a pretty badass demon, Annabelle
was able to keep my attention (mostly) and deliver a better-than-expected prequel of horror.