In this day and age toys that can be potentially hazardous will likely have a label as an indicator. I’m certain that the past owners of the doll named Annabelle would have appreciated such consideration. “Warning: This doll may contain demonic entities.”
Annabelle is not a stranger to the big screen, having gotten some brief screen time in The Conjuring (2013). I firmly believed, at the time, we had not seen the last of Annabelle. On October 3rd she arrived in theaters with a film all her own in Annabelle, a spin-off or prequel to The Conjuring
In a quaint and idyllic Santa Monica suburb, Mia and John are a young married couple making a life for themselves. Mia is pregnant with the couples first child and John is about to enter his medical residency. John has found what he believes to be the perfect gift for his wife and unborn child, a pristine and rare antique doll.
For Mia this is a welcome addition to her doll collection. One night Mia and John are awakened by a disturbance at a neighbor’s. John investigates and discovers the neighbors have been viciously murdered. They return to their house to report the incident and soon fall victim to an attack by the perpetrators themselves.
Their attackers turn out to be a couple who are members of a satanic cult, one of whom happens to be their murdered neighbors’ own daughter Annabelle. Annabelle’s boyfriend is killed by police responding to John’s call, and Annabelle takes her own life while holding Mia’s new prized gift.
The attack would end up leaving its mark not only on John and Mia, but also on Mia’s new doll. After the events of that horrific night, John and Mia decide that new surroundings will help to make a new beginning for their family. Things begin to take a turn following the birth of their daughter, Leah.
Something has followed them using the doll as a conduit and it seems hell-bent on ruining their new beginning.
Annabelle Wallis stars as Mia, a young wife and mother tormented by a malevolent force. Wallis is very convincing in her transition from happy-go-lucky suburbanite to a woman living in mortal terror for her safety and that of her infant daughter. She sincerely came across as a woman paralyzed by fear without anywhere to turn for help.
An interesting aspect that struck me as I was watching, were strong connections to Rosemary’s Baby. Her name is Mia (as in Mia Farrow), she’s pregnant, the films antagonists are of a satanic nature. At one point there is a television news clip in the background of a scene that mentions “The Family” otherwise known as “The Manson Family”, who were responsible for the death of Sharon Tate (Roman Polanski’s wife) and her unborn child.
I felt this was done to subtly pay homage to Polanski’s film.
Ward Horton plays Mia’s husband John, a young medical resident whose job keeps him away from home…a lot. This lends to a skeptical and somewhat dismissive attitude about any of the phenomena that Mia is experiencing, since it happens in his absence.
Horton gives an effective performance, but at moments the character can be almost painfully oblivious. An example being that he puts Annabelle in the trash after the home invasion, because of its painful association.
Yet when they are unpacking in their new home he is only mildly surprised or curious as to how the doll could have gotten there.
Alfre Woodard and Tony Amendola both give solid supporting performances. Woodard as Evelyn is Mia’s friend, confidant, and also something of a sage. Amendola appears as Father Perez, their parish priest and someone they turn to for guidance with their demonic dilemma.
Eric Laden gives the impression of a little boy trying to walk in his fathers big shoes, and is not quite convincing in the role of Detective Clarkin.
Joseph Bishara is back working on his fourth James Wan production, providing the musical scores previously for Insidious 1 & 2 as well as The Conjuring. His score is enough to raise goose bumps on its own. It’s continually shifting back and forth between string arrangements that are ominous and eerily creeping and terrifyingly frenzied and scraping.
The look of the film is very nostalgic, with a somewhat muted color palette. John and Mia’s suburban home at the beginning is very indicative their serene happy life. Smooth surfaces and walls painted in soft and inviting colors and bathed in warm light, concealing very little of anything in shadow.
There is a definite shift in the appearance when they move to their apartment to escape the memory of their nightmarish encounter in the “safe” unlocked door world of suburbia. Walls are rough in texture and colors are dark, murky, and drab.
Light sources are quite abundant and yet rooms are still swimming in shadow thus providing ample places for terrible things to lurk.
John R. Leonetti has made a career as a cinematographer, but on this occasion returns to the director’s chair for the third time in his career. Leonetti has worked with James Wan previously on Dead Silence, Death Sentence, Insidious 1 & 2 , and The Conjuring.
Having an understanding of Wan’s directorial style and vision would help to maintain continuity between The Conjuring and Annabelle. The way the story is presented is, quite honestly formulaic. This does not mean that there are not some real scares doled out in this movie.
You do get those flash scares that make you jump as something quickly appears and is just as quickly gone, but there are also the longer moments that make you fidget uncomfortably in your seat.
Long slowly creeping wide-angle shots down corridors aided in creating that unnerving sense of suspense. The old awkward “Dutch angle” and rapid cuts are used to create an off kilter, uneasy, and frantic feeling at times.
While horror movies are not considered high art, Annabelle is entertaining and delivers some truly scary moments. The story isn’t particularly strong, but makes do with what there is.
I would have liked to have seen a more developed back story for the characters, as well as a more detailed main story.
I would have specifically liked to have seen more development of the story concerning Annabelle Higgins, the Satanist daughter of their murdered neighbors and the origin for the doll’s name.
The screenplay may have suffered from being rushed to get it into production so that it would be completed in time for an October release to coincide with Halloween.