Review: ANNABELLE Is Worse Than Being Given An Antique Doll As A Gift
It is understandable that Warner Brothers and New Line would want to continue the success of last year's The Conjuring. The period haunted house flick proved a surprise summer smash last year, grossing over $300 million worldwide. Annabelle focuses on another apparently true story from real paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, that of a possessed antique doll that is glimpsed briefly in James Wan's film.
Rolling back the clock to the late 60s, when white bread suburban couples were getting spooked by news stories about the Manson Family and seriously considering locking their doors, Annabelle attempts to explain the origins of the malevolent porcelain presence in the most arbitrary, uninteresting way imaginable.
For reasons never explained, Mia Gordon (Annabelle Wallis) has a thing for hideous antique dolls, and so in preparation for the birth of their first child, her husband and newly qualified doctor John (Ward Horton) buys her one. It's ugly as sin, but Mia seems to be thrilled. That same night, their home is invaded by the prodigal daughter of the couple next door. Now a crazed demon worshipper, Annabelle and her boyfriend murder her parents before attempting to do the same to John and Mia. Fortunately the cops arrive in time, and Annabelle slits her own throat in the brand new nursery, her blood dripping onto the doll.
Pretty soon weird stuff starts happening, and after the kitchen catches fire, the couple agree to move out of their house and into an apartment block near John's residency. Baby Lea has also arrived, but upon unpacking they discover that damned creepy doll in a box, despite John throwing it away before they left the previous house. The disturbances continue, and Mia becomes increasingly convinced that their home is haunted and the doll might have something to do with it. So they turn to trusty Father Perez (Tony Amendola) and the eccentric black woman (Alfre Woodard) who runs the local secondhand book store for advice. Naturally.
The script for Annabelle appears to have been written by somebody who Googled famous horror movies from the last 50 years and simply threw all their favourite elements into a single setting. Frail wife/new mother, overly rational husband, vulnerable baby, elderly priest-turned-eager exorcist, eccentric black woman versed in demonology, fanatical cult members, ghosts, demons, the possessed doll...and so it goes on.
Credit where it is due, the doll design itself is incredibly creepy, and sitting alone with it in a quiet, darkened room for even a few minutes would prove an incredibly unnerving experience. What director John R. Leonetti (Wan's regular DP and helmsman of The Butterfly Effect 2) and screenwriter Gary Dauberman do instead, is toss everything into the air and hope that the genre archetypes and occasional loud noises will do the work for them. And guess what? They don't.
Annabelle is about as shameless a cash grab as we have witnessed in recent memory, trading solely on its association with an earlier, infinitely more successful film. James Wan is credited with producing the film, but there is nothing in Annabelle that comes close to capturing a single moment of genuine fear, tension or even mild discomfort, beyond the occasional aural sting - which at least kept me awake. While plenty of horror purists have problems with The Conjuring, it at least created atmosphere. Annabelle is inert from the get-go.
Leonetti attempts the same slow-burn approach that Wan has steered into the mainstream, but succeeds only in boring his audience to distraction. So much so, that you'll spend most of the film's 98 minutes checking off the dozens of other better horror films that each character, scene and occasionally even line of dialogue remind you of. When the poster for your film is creepier than anything in the actual film, perhaps it is time to rethink your chosen profession. Annabelle is absolutely insidious (see what I did?).