PLOT: A young family, reeling from a violent attack, start experiencing strange phenomena after they buy a creepy doll that seems to have a life of its own.
REVIEW: THE CONJURING was one of those pleasant summer surprises, in that it was a deliberately old fashioned, extremely effective little thriller with an unapologetic R-rating and a top-flight cast. It had style and it had substance. One of the most memorable bits from the film involved a demonic doll, Annabelle, and with THE CONJURING grossing so much money, it’s no surprise that the studio has raced a cheap, quickie prequel into production to cash-in on its notoriety.
Suffice to say my expectations were low and that’s exactly what ANNABELLE merits. After a relatively decent start that features an inspired staging of a Charles Manson-style murder, ANNABELLE settles into your typical horror movie pattern. Director John R. Leonetti is mostly known for his work as a DP, having actually shot THE CONJURING (as well as both INSIDIOUS movies for James Wan). While he does a professional job as a director, he lacks the flair and imagination Wan brought to the original, and this feels like a quickly-made movie no one was terribly invested it.
It doesn’t help that the premise is so thin. There’s only so much you can do with a killer doll (which – it has to be said – was done much better by the CHILD’S PLAY movies). As such, most of the film revolves around demonic possession, getting a lot of mileage out of the period setting, with it being set at the same time as the Manson Family murders, as a kind of satanic panic set-in across the country. Focusing on a new mother, played by the striking Annabelle Wallis, a lot of horror beats are taken straight out of ROSEMARY’S BABY, including the creepy new apartment building with the spooky neighbors, the inattentive husband, etc. Otherwise, most of the scares are lifted out of THE CONJURING, with Joseph Bishara’s score using a lot of the creepy themes he used last time, with the memorable “jack-in-a-box” theme re-purposed as the tune played by the baby’s mobile.
Once it settles into its groove ANNABELLE gets especially repetitive, with them getting rid of the doll, it coming back, rinse, repeat, and so on. It’s very monotonous. While Wallis is an effective heroine, you can only be so convincing acting opposite a doll and actor Ward Horton is bland as her doctor-husband. To be fair, it’s a thinly written part. The only one who really comes off well is Alfre Woodard, who injects some heart into her part although Woodard is one of those pros who just can’t help but be good no matter how bad the movie is. Ed and Lorraine Warren are briefly name-checked, although neither Patrick Wilson nor Vera Farmiga cameo (although you do hear Wilson’s voice in a clip from the first film).
In the end, ANNABELLE is just another cheap studio horror flick designed to cash-in on opening weekend and then sink into obscurity. It’s too bad as THE CONJURING was the exact opposite – an A-level horror movie that was designed to build an audience. This is disposable horror and nothing more.
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...