John R. Leonetti
After the massive success of 2013’s The Conjuring, it was inevitable that we would be seeing a sequel. What did come as a surprise however is the announcement of a spin-off film based on the creepy doll seen in the film named Annabelle. I was able to catch an advance screening of the film last night, so the question remains, is the first major release of the Halloween season worth checking out?
The film tells the story of Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton) a young married couple who are expecting their first child. The film takes place in California in the late 1960’s against the backdrop of the infamous Manson Family murders. Shortly after the film begins, their neighbors (Kerry O’Malley and Brian Howe) are butchered in their home by their own daughter and her boyfriend. The two psychotic “cult members” then move their attention to Mia and John, but are stopped by the police who arrive in time to save their lives. The young girl slices her own throat but some of her blood falls into the eye of the new doll, and this leads to the main story of the haunting.
Director John R. Leonetti borrows heavily from the director of The Conjuring, James Wan in style, which makes sense since the film is a spin off. Unfortunately he also takes a lot of his style from Wan‘s other haunted films Dead Silence and Insidious. If you haven’t seen either of those films, they rely far too heavily upon jump scares and musical stings. Annabelle had quite a bit of potential, but it is held back by it’s heavy reliance on these horror clichés. Given that the advance screening I viewed the film with was a sold out audience, I would recommend seeing the film in this type of environment. While any hardened horror fan can easily predict the jump scares from a mile away, viewing the film with a non-horror audience is an experience in and of itself, as it is incredible fun watching others react to these scenes.
The film borrows heavily from its influences, mainly Helter Skelter and Rosemary’s Baby, as well as the benchmark for any possessed doll film, Tom Holland‘s classic Child’s Play. Out of these films the influence that seemed the strongest was Polanski‘s 1968 masterpiece, and I can safely say that it reminded me more of the film than the recent televised remake did. That said, sadly the film falls short of forging out its own identity, and ends up seeming like a pale imitation of these better films. Given today’s horror market, I have no doubt that Annabelle will be a success, but it is also the type of film that won’t be looked upon fondly in a decade or so.
The actors in the film all do a competent job, with Alfre Woodward being a standout as Evelyn, a character with some prior experience with the occult who befriends the young couple. Annabelle Wallis does the best she can with her character, with many scenes of her alone reminding me of the wonderful Mia Farrow in the aforementioned Rosemary’s Baby.
The music from composer Joseph Bishara is incredibly reminiscent of both The Conjuring and Insidious, which makes sense seeing as those were also his work. While his music does a fine job building a sense of dread through certain scenes, much like Leonetti‘s direction and insistence on falling back on easy jump scares, Bishara relies too heavily on the good ol’ musical sting just as he did with his prior works.
Annabelle continues the current horror trend of hauntings and possessions, and while it is far from perfect, I can assure you that there are worst ways to spend 90 odd minutes. And as always, look on the bright side, at least it is an original film, and not a remake.
Annabelle opens in theatres everywhere on October 3rd, 2014. Be sure to support mainstream horror for better or worse and get out to your local theatre. At the very least you can get “shushed” for heckling the film as myself and a good friend did at the screening.