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Review: Annabelle (2014)

Annabelle (2014)

Directed by: John R. Leonetti

Premise: A spinoff of 2013’s The Conjuring. Set in 1969, a couple is attacked by members of a cult and afterward they are haunted by a demon that wants to possess their daughter.

What Works: Annabelle is the latest entry in the trend of haunting-based movies and it is a sort-of prequel to The Conjuring in that it tells the backstory of one of the artifacts seen in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s occult museum in that film. The opening of Annabelle is very strong, in whch a psychotic couple invades the home of a pair of middle class parents-to-be and attempts to murder them. This sequence is executed really well and throughout the picture director John R. Leonetti shows a knack for setting up creepy sequences. One of the admirable qualities of this film is that the filmmakers find the right balance between shocks and tension. The Paranormal Activity series, which has set the tone for the horror genre over the past five years, is based on building expectations and stringing the audience along. This plays out in apparently static or mundane shots that eventually end in a sudden “boo” moment. The trouble is that some of the later Paranormal Activity entries (and some of the series’ imitators) extended this technique too far and audiences were stuck watching shots that went on for too long and weren’t punctuated with a sufficient payoff. The filmmakers of Annabelle have a much better sense of pacing and there are several elongated and creepy sequences that manage to get a scare or two out of the audience.

What Doesn’t: There are moments and set pieces of Annabelle that are impressively done but the movie as a whole never quite takes off. As in most faulty movies, the central problem comes down to its script. Annabelle makes very little sense and its logic is increasingly strained throughout the story, culminating in an ending that makes absolutely no sense at all. Every supernatural movie has to have its own self-contained theology; not everything has be explained but the audience has to grasp what the rules are and how the supernatural powers work. This gives the characters something to do, whether it’s firing a silver bullet into the monster, returning a sacred object to its rightful place, or completing a magic ritual. The attempt to follow that solution to its conclusion is the source of conflict in stories like this and filmmakers have to establish and follow their own rules in order to keep the audience engaged. The filmmakers of Annabelle never do that. Supernatural events happen but there’s no apparent point to any of this and the characters aren’t given anything to do about it. That results is a story that’s going nowhere and the bulk of the picture is a series of scenes that are fundamentally disconnected and many of them could be rearranged in any order without impacting the plot. Annabelle suffers in a similar way from a lack of imagination. The signature of this movie is a spooky looking doll that becomes the conduit for evil forces. The doll is not really a villain in the mode of Chucky in the Child’s Play films and so there’s no confrontation here. Instead the filmmakers repeatedly show creepy images of the doll sitting on a shelf or a chair. Those scenes work in and of themselves but it’s not enough to sustain a story. Annabelle was produced by James Wan, who had directed by The Conjuring, and this film is awfully familiar from Wan’s other movies, namely Insidious and its sequel and Dead Silence. Viewers familiar with Wan’s other work will recognize a lot of elements of this movie and it plays like a highlight reel of these other movies but it’s not nearly as engaging.

Bottom Line: Annabelle has a few shocks in it but the movie is derivative, poorly conceived, and generally pretty stupid. This spinoff may have been intended to build a franchise around The Conjuring but it does not succeed even as a standalone movie. 

Episode: #512 (October 12, 2014)