This is why I plan on burning every stuffed animal, doll and childhood keepsake I ever owned. Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton and Academy Award nominee Alfre Woodard star in Annabelle.
Director – John R. Leonetti
Screenplay – Gary Dauberman
Producer – Peter Safran & James Wan
Rated R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror
John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle Wallis) are a young couple expecting their first child, and to celebrate, they buy their unborn baby a rare vintage doll known as Annabelle.
I’m not the type to butt in with parenting advice, but I see CPS in these parents’ future.
The Gordons are given a rude awakening, though, when their home is invaded by members of a Satanic cult. They manage to survive the attacks; however, no matter how hard they try, something wicked conjured by the cultists, lying within the doll, will do its best to prevent the Gordons from moving on from that traumatic event.
Last summer, we were treated to the refreshingly entertaining horror film The Conjuring, directed by James Wan (who co-produces Annabelle). The film was met with critical praise and made nearly $320 million on just a $20 million budget. Even an idiot knows Warner Bros. is gonna milk the hell out of this property ’til there ain’t a drop left, and that now brings us to the prequel/spinoff, Annabelle, which is based on that creepy doll we saw at the beginning of The Conjuring.
This time around, James Wan, who directed the first film, steps aside and lets his cinematographer John R. Leonetti take the reins for Annabelle.
Boy, do you really feel Wan’s absence here.
2014 seems to be a year that features great DPs getting the nod from their even better directors, Wally Pfister (Christopher Nolan) and Leonetti (James Wan), only to end up making a great looking piece of garbage (Pfister directed Transcendence earlier this year). It certainly doesn’t help matters any that Leonetti’s last two directing efforts were Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2, but let’s not overlook the credit this man deserves. The Conjuring was not only one of the best horror films of recent years, but also one of the best looking horror films of recent years as well. So it’s not like it was completely out of the realm of possibility that Leonetti could put together a decent little horror flick here, especially since Wan set the doll up for him so effectively in The Conjuring by only needing the film’s first 10-15 minutes to have her scaring the crap out of everyone.
Some might write this off as a franchise-making cash grab, but I believe there’s a concept rife with potential here. As a big fan of The Conjuring, I was looking forward to Annabelle, but this is a massive disappointment that wastes its promising concept. Simply put, this film just isn’t scary at all. You can forgive a film of some of its faults (like the geographical snafus they commit here) if it delivers the scares, but if it ain’t delivering any, all you’re left with is picking out how incredibly stupid everything else is. Sure, there are jump scenes galore, but whoopty-damn-doo. Congrats, you edited in a loud, obnoxious sound effect with someone jumping out and screaming at someone else.
Alfred Hitchcock would be so proud.
If the attempted scares aren’t the cheap ones that make you jump, then they’re also the predictable ones. Turn every time a wide or pan shot that has a long, dark hallway in view (Gasp! Someone creepy walks by it!) into a drinking game, and see how long it takes for you to develop a dependency.
The biggest sin committed here, though, is just how flat, boring and idiotic these characters are. Part of what made The Conjuring so effective was that we got a talented cast (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) playing interesting characters that we genuinely cared about, which elevated the suspense. Here, we get a husband that’s smart enough to earn a medical license, but dumb enough to tell his frightened wife – who just saw her neighbor’s blood get splattered across the bedroom wall next door – that the neighbors wouldn’t want them calling the cops. He’ll just get up out of bed and take his time walking over to the neighbors’ house so the serial killers have enough time to kill everyone.
Good Lord, I’m glad I don’t live next door to him.
I can excuse some stupidity. Characters have done stupid things in great horror movies, but these characters are not just dumb, they’re as milquetoast boring as you can get. Annabelle Wallis (who may have only been cast ’cause she shares the title name) and Ward Horton seem like nice people, but they’re just not engaging as a couple, or even just as leads in a film. The worst in “For better, for worse” it gets for these two is when he mentions something about parenting being difficult. I’m no parent, but even I realize that’s true enough to not even need stating, yet she treats his comment like he just came out and admitted he cheated on her multiple times.
Your goal as a filmmaker should be to get me to care about these people, not root for them to be killed. Hell, I’ll even take them just having a domestic squabble over anything actually worth bitching about if it means them proving they have a pulse.
And even though it’s always a welcome sight to see an invaluable character actress like Alfre Woodard show up here, her talent is just wasted in the obligatory second and third-act “Here’s your problem. Let me help you.” role.
I’ll give this film credit for one set piece that takes place down in an elevator shaft. It’s effectively creepy, and even passed my “Corner of the Screen” test (my Oculus review explains what that is). Of course, though, one good moment can’t compensate for the lifeless remainder of the film.
Void of scares and at times unintentionally funny, Annabelle is a Grand Canyon-sized fall from grace for the newly established Conjuring franchise. Although the “Manson Era” ’60s production design is well-done, and a few of the jolts work, it doesn’t make up for the cheap throwaway scares and bland characters not even worth caring about that comprise everything else in this movie. It doesn’t take the smartest film critic in the world to realize you’re dealing with a crappy film when it’s more lifeless and wooden than the doll it’s based on.
I give Annabelle a D (★).