Part spin-off, part prequel, Annabelle fits neatly within James Wan’s paranormal world’s of The Conjuring and Insidious despite allowing the director’s chair to be filled by someone else. Dan Stephens explains why the film is worthy of your time…
Annabelle fits neatly into the paranormal works of James Wan’s Conjuring and Insidious film chapters. That’s not surprising, of course. It’s inspired by the possessed doll which briefly featured in The Conjuring, taking us back to the inanimate object’s entry into the lives of a well-meaning family and the demonic events that witness it gain a malevolent consciousness. In part because it is a spin-off but more so because it is directed by his favourite cinematographer John R. Leonetti, Annabelle is very much in the same paranormal movie mould as Wan’s commercial hits. While it is thin on plot and you’ll still be waiting to get to know the characters by the film’s closing credits, this is an appealing attempt at “ghost train” cinema. In other words, step onto the ride and await for something to jump out at you.
A quick recap of Annabelle’s intro in The Conjuring leads us back to 1969 where John and Mia Form (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis) are expecting their first child. Mia has a strange fascination with ceramic dolls – the sort that are intrinsically terrifying to anyone with an over-active imagination – and she is presented with a gift from her husband before their baby’s birth that happens to be Annabelle.
When the Satan-worshipping daughter of the neighbouring family turns up to slaughter her parents, the police manage to stop the massacre only after the psychopathic Manson-esque woman has stabbed Mia in the abdomen. For some reason drawn to the ceramic doll, the dead woman lays bleeding upon it as paramedics desperately try to save the life of Mia and her unborn child.
Mia and the child survive and John relocates the family to an apartment block in Pasadena, hoping to forget about the horrible events of that night. But pitfall and tragedy seem to follow the family wherever they go. It isn’t long before Mia is being harassed by unexplainable events, and it all leads back to the doll.
Annabelle might be inferior to its big brother The Conjuring, partly because the talents of director James Wan are missing, but experienced and talented cinematographer Leonetti, whose previous directorial efforts include forgettable efforts Mortal Combat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2, has a flair behind the lens that results in some inspired moments of terror. While the film fails to get under the skin like better genre efforts, particularly because of its flimsy plotting, Leonetti’s staging intermittently takes the horror to boiling point with at least two fantastic jump-out-of-your-seat moments.
Elsewhere there’s some good sequences of tension-filled suspense but perhaps the sight of creepy children, a Catholic Priest moaning about demonic souls, and the curiously helpful lady at the occult bookstore diminish any long-lasting thrills because there’s a distinct sense we’ve seen it all before. Thankfully, British actress Annabelle Wallis, who enjoys the most screen time as the tormented mother, is an engaging lead whose plight we root for despite a thinly drawn character.
Annabelle has been hastily put together and it shows. But cheap thrills are thrills nonetheless. If James Wan’s The Conjuring and Insidious are the main courses in this haunting paranormal troupe, Annabelle is a pleasing side order that will surely satisfy fans of this brand of scary movie.