Annabelle (2014) / Horror
MPAA Rated: R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Tony Amendola, Alfre Woodard
Director: John R. Leonetti
Screenplay: Gary Dauberman
Review published October 3, 2014
Annabelle is a spinoff to events that occur in 2013's The Conjuring, but it is also a prequel of sorts. The Conjuring's director, James Wan, doesn't helm this offshoot, serving instead as producer, handing over the reins to his longtime cinematographer John R. Leonetti (director of The Butterfly Effect 2 and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) to handle the duties as a fright-meister. While Leonetti has crafted a nice-looking low-budget fright flick, he doesn't handle such things as pacing or suspense nearly as well, resulting in a movie that frequently fails to deliver adequate jolts or story interest to stave off the boredom that increasingly sets in.
Set in the late 1960s, we follow young couple Dr. John Gordon (Horton, The Wolf of Wall Street) and his initially pregnant wife Mia (Wallis, True True Lie). Hubby buys Mia a rare and quite coveted doll to complete her expensive creepy vintage doll collection. Not long after, their Satan-worshipping neighbors get into a murderous altercation that spills over into the Gordon home, resulting in Mia nearly losing her baby in the womb, and a suicidal young woman named Annabelle dies holding the doll in her arms, which somehow transfers her evil soul into it. Now with evil incarnate inside, all Hell begins to break loose in the Gordon household, as demons begin to wage their wickedness in order to cull another innocent soul.
As with most bad horror films, the protagonists seem to think that, despite some truly scary and dangerous things that have befallen Mia and baby Leah, that they can just stick it out in their spacious Santa Monica abode. Unlike The Conjuring, which had a modicum of star power in its quiver to draw from, the only recognizable face in Annabelle, other than a bit part for Alfre Woodard (12 Years a Slave), is the doll itself. And it's not enough, given that the doll can't move or talk on its own -- it just sits and looks unnerving. And that aspect is its weakness, as Annabelle doesn't make for a formidable villain in the slightest. Nobody notices that the doll just looks demonic, and yet somehow, it is the most sought after doll in the burgeoning hobby industry. And dumb-hunk John barely bats an eye that he can't seem to get rid of the thing no matter what he does.
It's easy to see where things are going long before they occur. Lots of close-ups of Mia's fingers drawing ever so close to the needle on a sewing machine will have everyone wincing and waiting for the moment when that needle inevitably makes contact with flesh. A brand new Jiffy Pop popcorn pan left on the stove is just waiting to be popped in anticipation of another big ramped-up jump-scare. Without the cranked-up music and unpleasant pop-out images, there's just no real scares to be found, which makes Annabelle too weak to be a potent modern-day horror flick, and not substantive enough in its story to make an adequate throw-back in the way of its predecessor, The Conjuring.
Unless you're a sucker for horror films that are little more than a plethora of sinister scenes of needless child endangerment, there's not much here to recommend. We have a mother who is constantly scared out of her wits by things she sees with her own eyes, and yet she doesn't leave the house or beg to relocate, and even leaves her baby alone for long periods -- something a mother should be loathe to do even when not persistently beleaguered by demonic appearances.
Despite its flawed design, Annabelle is not a horrible movie, but it is a boring one, which, after the gripping moments that occurred with regularity in The Conjuring (which, ironically, had far more scares in the 15 minutes of time with Annabelle than the entire 100 minutes we see here), can only be seen as a major letdown for fans of the young series of films. Just like the doll the film is named after, this wooden production is marred by unappealing aesthetics and an unmoving delivery.
©2014 Vince Leo