Director – John R. Leonetti
Cast – Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard, Tony Amendola, Kerry O’Malley, Brian Howe, Eric Ladin
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
The Conjuring is one if the best horror films this millennium and my #1 for 2013, and a good part of its allure is credited to its frightening opening sequence about a haunted doll named Annabelle. The fans wanted an Annabelle film and now we have one. Of course, I wanted it to be filmed by James Wan himself, and was a bit disappointed to see him only producing the effort. My concern grew when I saw that the director’s previous works included such lesser films as Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2. So, while hoping for the best, I went into this experience knowing it had the potential to suck. As it turns out, the film does suck in some ways – like comparing it to The Conjuring – however it was scarier than I expected and that counts for something.
When John presents his wife Mia with a vintage doll she has sought after for years, her delight is soon replaced with an emotion nobody expected: fear. When their home is invaded by two members of a satanic cult, the doll becomes a conduit to the evil entity the invaders brought to this realm…and it sets its sights on Mia.
I was unsure whether a full-length story was possible with so little known about Annabelle (unless you have read The Demonologist) but writer Gary Dauberman somehow made it happen despite writing complete trash before this. The story takes its time developing, slowly but surely establishing how Annabelle came about. Once that has been established then the haunting begins almost immediately. As with most films involving inanimate objects, the horror is tame for at least the first half of the film, then the horror manifests. If you have come here to see the creepy doll get up and attack Nia then you will be disappointed. While I would have preferred such a doll we are instead shown a possessed doll who caused horror telekinetically until she literally lets her demons loose. Much of her harassment / attention is on Mia, and she uses the still recovering (mentally and physically) woman’s weaknesses to her benefit. She makes those around her question her sanity, and she instills a constant fear that her child will no longer be hers for long.
There are plenty of scares written into the story and much to my surprise a few of them actually scared me. These occasions resulted in goose bumps spreading down my legs, which is my litmus test for a good atmospheric spook. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t see Annabelle physically do anything. Instead, the horror comes off very Paranormal Activity-esque where things are going bump in the night and even during the day. The majority of the scares are basic but there were momentary sequences of brilliance where highly effective simplicity stole the show – like the elevator sequence.
Story-wise I do feel like there could have been more to Annabelle. Her being static was a bit tame and the story did not fully make up for that. Surely if you were to experience such a situation in real life it would be terrifying, but in this film it was a bit underwhelming. The lead characters were also less-than-favorable. I never found myself caring about what happened to them, which is a shame for a story like this and the type of haunting that took place. Thankfully, the supporting characters, like bookshop owner Evelyn and Father Perez helped make up for the lack of motivating characters.
Director John. R. Leonetti did a decent job bringing this story to life. In a perfect world James Wan would have directed this effort and given us the immensely creepy execution he delivered during the Annabelle scene in The Conjuring. I feel that Wan did have a hand in Leonetti’s execution during the film’s creepier scenes, and he definitely laid down his influence with the film’s musical score, which should remind you of those heard in The Conjuring and Insidious. The atmosphere is good and the locations used for the two homes our protagonists live in allowed me to envelop myself into the experience. I believe that this played a heavy role in the scenes that gave me goose bumps because I imagined myself hearing the noises and experiencing the terror Mia would go through. The execution of Annabelle is OK, but that’s about it – it’s really basic. In The Conjuring the mere sight of her left me in awe, whereas in her own full-length film a lot of potential went to waste.
Overall, Annabelle isn’t a bad film but it’s not a good experience either. Sure there are a few creepy scenes, but they had little to do with the doll, and the doll is the reason most of us are giving this effort a watch. If you scare easily then I can see you enjoying this. In my case I found more joy than I expected because I went in with low expectations. You should probably do the same.