I don’t know if you’ll have seen The Conjuring, but if you haven’t, you’ve missed out on one of the most popular horror films of recent times. It was incredibly effective, demonstrating a fine control over the genre by James Wan and proof of the strong impact horror can make when care is exercised to build three-dimensional characters. One of the creepier aspects of was a haunted doll called Annabelle, who engages in a touch of demonic vandalism at one point of the film. In an effort to cash in one the movie’s success, Warner Brothers conjured up, if you’ll pardon the expression, a spin-off – the story of the origins of the doll, and how it came to be with paranormal investigators the Warrens.
Set in the late 60s, the film follows a couple, John and Mia Form (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis respectively) who are expecting their first child. One night, Mia hears a murder occurring at their neighbour’s house. Going to call the police, she finds two intruders in her house – one is killed, and the other commits suicide, her blood dripping onto the face of the Annabelle doll. After giving birth, they family move to a new apartment, where strange activity starts to plague them. Mia learns that the intruders were members of a cult, and that the supernatural menace may be a demon after her child’s soul.
In researching this film, I found that it was made for about a sixth of the budget of The Conjuring, and all I can say is that it definitely shows. When you compare the two (and by making it a prequel, you can’t help but compare the two), it is noticeably weaker in every way. The story is not as good and it makes you fail to care for the characters (also, as a side note, the lead actor looks about twelve – he made me think of a kid playing dress-up). The Annabelle doll is not nearly as frightening as it was in the original film (even if it remains creepy as anything – who buys a doll like that for their child?) and the few jump scares do nothing.
It suffers in comparison, most definitely, but is it a decent horror in its own right? Aside from one well-executed scene in the apartment’s basement (and, perhaps, a blood-splatter jump scare that might get you), the atmosphere and the frights are simply not there. It employs a number of clichés from better horror films (the bookshop owner with a knowledge of the occult and the requisite priest, the creak of a rocking chair that moves by itself, people being pulled by an invisible force, people in the background who shouldn’t be there) and fails to do anything other than imitate them rather shoddily, employing them serviceably at best.
As an example, it sets up a lethal sewing machine confrontation – from the moment you see it, you know something bad and painful is going to happen. It reappears multiple times, turning on mysteriously in the night at one point because that’s what things in horror films do, before it cuts Mia’s finger a bit. The viewer expects to scream, or at least wince at the gore, and all they do is yawn. You get the feeling that the film feels it is scary than it actually is.
Annabelle, then, is a bit of a dud of a horror film – it suffers by comparison to The Conjuring, but is not particularly good in its own right either. When you watch a movie like this, you want to be scared, or at least have some fun with it. Annabelle provides neither feeling, however – it is lame and weak. If you want a horror film that is not as good as your average horror, this may be for you.
Director: John R. Leonetti
Cast: Annabelle Wallis (Mia), Ward Horton (John), Tony Amendola (Father Perez), Alfre Woodard (Evelyn), Kerry O’Malley (Sharon Higgins), Brian Howe (Pete Higgins)
Running Time: 99 Mins
Image credit: http://movieweb.com/annabelle-2-writer-gary-dauberman/