Annabelle (2014)

Following the worldwide success of last year’s rather good The Conjuring, creepy doll Annabelle – who you may remember currently resides in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s Room Of Creepy Things – gets her own outing because, clearly, someone thinks she’s a hell of a lot scarier than she actually is. To be fair, Annabelle is incredibly ugly, but that just makes it even less likely someone would purchase her and display her in their home.

Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton are Mia (no, really) and John, a young couple living a quiet suburban when their neighbours are butchered by members of a Satanic cult, who then turn their attention to them, stabbing Mia in the process. As she’s pregnant, Mia is put on bed rest – in the house they choose to remain in following this horrific event – and lots of spooky things happen. Eventually, she convinces John to leave and set up shop in a fancy apartment downtown. They then discover that Annabelle, who John swore he threw out back at the old place, seems to have followed them there. Mia sets her up alongside all of the other creepy dollies on the shelf and, pretty quickly, everything starts to go a bit weird again.

Director James Wan, who is responsible for the first, and best, installment in the Saw franchise, along with Insidious 1 and 2, struck gold with The Conjuring. A slow-burning, old school chiller, it saved its best scares for when the audience least expected them, forgoing the cheap tactics for which these kinds of paranormal-themed flicks have become famous. With Annabelle, Wan takes only a production credit, giving John R. Leonetti, his DOP on Insidious and The Conjuring, the opportunity to flex his directing muscles.

Unfortunately, the change is immediately obvious as, following a nicely gory opening sequence, Annabelle quickly devolves into a tired retread of the same clichés and gimmicks to which we’ve become accustomed. Aside from the “classic” seventies soundtrack, there are creepy toys, weird drawings, a lullaby and a demon who looks remarkably like Darth Maul from Insidious – although he does pack quite a punch, once the doll takes a back seat.

Much of the film is spent wondering whether Annabelle is going to move of her own accord – Leonetti did the cinematography on Child’s Play 3 so he has previous experience – as the camera inches ever closer to her cracked, porcelain face. The best scare actually comes courtesy of a misdirect when she does exactly that, but considering five of the biggest frights, out of about ten, are in the trailer, this isn’t much of a positive.

Annabelle wears its influences on its (her?) sleeve, with references to everything from Rosemary’s Baby, to The Omen, to Wan’s previous offerings. The music cues tell us exactly when to cover our eyes, and there’s an over-reliance on jump scares that would make the Paranormal Activity guys roll their eyes. Annabelle, or rather the demon in control of her, seems remarkably powerful, able to control all electrical appliances at will and make Mia’s poor infant disappear, which is in direct contradiction with the fact her mother is assured the demon cannot take a soul unless it is offered.

There are elements to Annabelle that work, for instance a throwaway line when Mia reveals she’s being haunted, that hints at a sense of humour sadly left on the cutting room floor, a sequence in the building’s laundry room involving a malfunctioning lift and the ritualistic killings that kick the whole thing off. And the cult’s symbol, at the very least, is more ominous than the Euro sign of last year’s similarly-themed, utterly rubbish Devil’s Due. John and Mia are likeable, rational protagonnists and Wallis, in particular, is great as the confused, desperate mother, while Alfre Woodward and Tony Amendola do the best they can with their thinly-written supporting characters, a mystic and a priest respectively.

However, Annabelle never manages to live up to its opening moments. It isn’t so much its own film, as a collection of decent bits stolen from other films. It trundles towards its inevitable conclusion, with scrawled messages on the walls of the baby’s room telling us what’s coming, the resolution feeling forced and hokey. An attempt at a twist, possibly to set up a sequel, is misjudged too, although a factoid regarding the real doll is welcome, even if it serves as a reminder to us that the Warrens did not feature as they did in The Conjuring.

Simply speaking, if you have seen the trailer for Annabelle, then you have seen Annabelle. James Wan should be commended for giving his DOP a chance to shine. However, unlike when Adam Green did the same with Hatchet 3, in this case the change only serves to highlight the lack of material here. It’s evident the film was rushed through to capitalise on the popularity of The Conjuring. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as scary, or involving enough, to justify its existence as anything other than a well-timed spin-off.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.