Tuesday, 14 October 2014



2014  USA
Directed by John R. Leonetti
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Ever so slight spoilers on some of 
the scares but not really story spoilers as such.

Annabelle is a prequel made in the wake of the popularity of the film, based on a real life tale of demonic possession investigated by The Warrens, Ed and Lorraine, called The Conjuring (reviewed here). Although the doll, known as Annabelle, does have some part to play in the opening of The Conjuring (as a scene setter for the central characters) and final parts of the former movie, Annabelle is never really anything than a scary bonus which has nothing to do with the basic plot of that film.

While the makers of The Conjuring are in the midst of trying to get a sequel churned out, possibly involving the Enfield Poltergeist (although I’m told The Warrens didn’t have a heck of a lot to do with that particular case), New Line have decided to throw this film out in the meantime to strike the box office coffers while the iron is hot, so to speak. So this film is based on the story of Annabelle before she came into the final possession of Ed and Lorraine, although the producers have gone to some lengths to connect it to The Conjuring by using Ed’s voice and a replay of some of the early scenes from the first film pertaining to the misadventures of the doll... again, to set the tone at the start of this new movie.

Now, if you’ve read my review of The Conjuring, you’ll know I absolutely loved it and proclaimed it among the best horror movies ever made.. for a number of reasons. So I was kinda looking forward to seeing Annabelle until I started hearing very low key things about it not being very good. In fact, all the tweets and reviews I read on it, bar one, said that it was a pretty dreadful film. The one good review I read started with the admission that the reviewer in question never really like The Conjuring all that much and so I figured I might be setting myself up for a fall looking forward to this prequel.

As it turns out, Annabelle isn’t a terrible film, on the face of it. It’s clichéd, for sure, but then again so are most horror movies that are all playing with a similar set of rules and this movie certainly had a fair few scenes which are going to make viewers, at the very least, a little anxious.

One of the strengths of the first movie is that pretty much all the cast were likeable and someone you felt you could hang out with. Certainly, the lead protagonists of Annabelle, a newly pregnant wife called Mia (played by Annabelle Wallis) and her husband John (played by Ward Horton) are pictured as very nice people to be with... although they don’t seem to have the same kind of appeal as the characters in the first movie and the film possibly doesn’t take enough time to explore their personalities. Things start to go wrong for them not so much later after John buys Mia, a doll collector, a hard to get piece for her collection... yeah, that’s right, the Annabelle of the title. Pretty soon after that, Mia and John’s nice n’ comfy next door neighbours get a visitation from a formerly missing daughter and her culty boyfriend. They’ve come home to slash her mum and dad to tiny pieces and then, once they’ve seen to that, they come for Mia and John. The daughter is from a satanic cult (we know as much because of the news broadcast in the background in a scene prior to these events which is pushing the Manson Murders as being a current thing) and she dies at the hands of the police but, not before she’s dripped some of her blood into the eyes of the Annabelle doll. Our heroes don’t escape unscathed but, after enough bizarre visitations by scary occurrences, our two main protagonists move to another town and start again, leaving the troublesome doll behind in a trash can.

Things start to happen not long after the Annabelle doll turns up in their new house again and Mia, and her new daughter, ar both targeted by the usual manifestations you get in these kinds of movies. It’s all done very competently and some sequences will make you jump, I suspect. That being said, there doesn’ seem to be much new on offer here and there are a lot of big scripting signposts which point to future events in the movie in several places. Like the family befriending both the local priest with an expertise on evil (evil, I tells ya) and the lady who runs the second hand bookshop... who also happens to be knowledgable about demonology etc. Most of the time it’s pretty obvious what roles these people are going to play in the movie so I can understand why people have been expecting more from this one. That being said, from the swooping and luxurious camerawork and the jump/cut/scare editing (which does need split second timing, to be fair) to Joseph Bishara’s usual sound design versus melody scoring style, in which he already seems to be getting an old hand but which does what it does when it needs to... this film is, at the very least, competently put together and should give a fair few of you something like a good time at the cinema.

There’s some really nice stuff going on too.

Annabelle herself, for example, is a classic piece of audience driven suspense in that, apart from when she’s being manipulated by someone or something else, she doesn’t once move by herself. The camera quite often holds shot on her in a close up of her face because the director knows you are waiting for the doll to either move her eyes or perhaps just blink at some point. But that jump scare never comes and this means the director can keep delivering certain, suspenseful close ups of the doll (and don’t worry, he does) while simultaneously playing on our imagination to provide the scares and, like most directors working in this genre, Leonetti knows that our imagination is often stronger than anything he can conjure up for a movie like this.

There’s a brilliant sequence about two thirds of the way through where the writer and director appear to break their own rules about the doll, which you may have already twigged isn’t going to be doing anything on her own, by now. As Mia is in deep focus and facing out to the audience in the foreground of a shot, we notice the Annabelle doll getting up on her own as Mia then turns to stare at it. The doll begins to appear to levitate and it’s only after a little more of this that both the audience and Mia come to realise that, through the sheer chicanery of movie effects and editing, something is actually holding the doll up, back there in the darkness. Scary stuff.

There’s a nice Rosemary’s Baby kind of vibe going through the movie too. Not in terms of Mia and John’s child so much, although Mia is an obvious reference by the writer, Gary Dauberman, name checking the actress who portrayed Rosemary in the movie version of Ira Levin’s famous novel... Mia Farrow. The similarity is more in terms of atmosphere and the apartment block that Mia finds herself inhabiting mostly on her own when John is away at work. You also get the feeling that many of her acquaintances, perhaps even her husband, are in on whatever is haunting Mia... although we all know that it’s Annabelle, the daughter of the dead neighbours, who is inhabiting the doll. Or is it, exactly? There’s something of a mixed story idea, I think, because there’s also a demon coming visiting at odd hours that also seems to be using Annabelle as a conduit to our world.

The last act of the movie lets the film down somewhat, for my money. The obvious characters who our main protagonists have met over the course of the film both fulfil their very obvious roles and the ending is somewhat of a comedown given that there was a lot of subtle work throughout the majority of the rest of the movie. There’s another nice nod to The Conjuring at the end and, though there could be room for a sequel to get squeezed in here if the box office on this spin off is big enough, I suspect this is probably the last we’ll be seeing of Annabelle, descended from both real life and a series of cinematic and television “sinister dolls with minds of their own”.

If you loved The Conjuring as much as I did, then you’re certainly going ot want to watch this just to see how it fits in with things. If you are a horror fan in general then just remember that Annabelle is not exactly the greatest horror movie ever made. This is an okay and competent attempt at a fairly jumpy but ultimately slightly less than satisfying genre film and, if that’s enough for you, and for most of us that would be, then this one is definitely worth a gander. However, like I said before... it’s not The Conjuring.

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