Film Review – Annabelle
The only way Annabelle (2014) can really affect you is if you’ve never seen a horror film before. It incorporates so many clichés that we can tell when a jump scare is coming from a mile away. In fairness, there are a few genuine thrills to be had, but we have to slog through countless mundane scenes and ineffective shocks that it’s really not worth going through all the trouble.
It’s a shame, because it exists as a prequel to James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013), which I found to be very good at creating and sustaining tension. What we have is a spin-off acting as a means to bank off the original’s success. Unfortunately, it does not have the ingenuity to stand up as a singular piece. Is the Annabelle doll creepy? Sure it is, but after awhile, the fear dissipates. Soon enough, we realize “Hey, it’s just a doll.” Even as a kid, creepy dolls and toys never had a real effect on me. Why should I be frightened by Chucky if I could just punt him for thirty yards?
John R. Leonetti takes the director’s chair with Gary Dauberman supplying the script. They maneuver around the restrictions of the doll by making it a conduit for an evil demon. Whoever is in possession of Annabelle will be haunted by the spirit attached to her. Let me ask you a question: If you ran across a doll that appeared exactly like Annabelle, would you take it home and place it on your shelf? Of course you wouldn’t. You would throw it away, or better yet, you wouldn’t even take it to begin with! Who in their right mind would bring home a doll that looks like it was created in the depths of Hades?
And that’s where we run into our two main characters. Mia (played by the appropriately named Annabelle Wallis) and her husband John (Ward Horton) are a clean cut, all American married couple living in the 1960s. On the outside, they are your typical every day couple, even expecting their first baby. In reality, they are two of the dumbest characters to appear in a horror film in recent memory. They make every stupid decision you can think of. “Oh, you heard a loud scream? Don’t call the cops, let’s go investigate it ourselves!” “Oh, there’s a strange noise over in the dark hallway, let’s creep our way towards it, surely nothing could go wrong!” They throw commonsense out the window and replace it with idiocy. I was frightened for their child not because of any ghost or goblin, but by their own stupidity.
The biggest fault with the film is how it does not have an identity of its own. From the costumes, sets, and plot points, everything resembles previous horror movies. The clothes Mia and John wear – along with the design of their apartment – bears striking parallels to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Is it just a coincidence that the main character (Mia) has the same name as the lead actress in Polanski’s film (Mia Farrow)? I don’t think so. Even worse is the inclusion of cults into the story. In an early scene, we see a news broadcast depicting the infamous Manson Family Murders. The lines that are drawn between murderous cults, Roman Polanski, and this story reek with distastefulness.
If there is a saving grace here, it is Annabelle Wallis. Although Mia is an incredibly dumb character, Wallis does her best to provide some depth and nuance to her performance. Her fear for herself, her husband and their child is palpable. She’s engaging, and has a strong screen presence – it’s very easy to root for her even when she makes very bad choices. The same can’t be said for John, who spends most of the time either absent or wondering if Mia is going crazy.
There are supporting characters, but they work as your basic horror stereotypes. There’s the mysterious next-door neighbor (Alfre Woodard) who somehow knows all the answers without being asked any questions. There’s the friendly priest (Tony Amendola) who emphasizes the religious tones, and the police detective (Eric Ladin) who has all the dastardly evidence but is nowhere to be found when the going gets tough. They are a stock group of types, and for as strong of an actress as Alfre Woodard is, the material given to her barely rises above forgettable.
I think Annabelle can be best summed up like this: in one key scene, a character hears a strange noise coming from the bedroom. They make their way there, but suddenly, they hear another noise coming from the front door. Once they get to the front door, they hear another noise coming from the bedroom again. This character goes between the bedroom to the front door (down the same hallway) at least three to four times. The fact I was even compelled to start counting should clue you in on what kind of horror film this is.
LAST SECOND SCARE!!