Director: John R. Leonetti
Starring: Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard, Tony Amendola
If you saw The Conjuring, you may remember that it opened with scenes involving a possessed doll named Annabelle who the Warrens later took possession of and kept in their artifacts room. It should come as no surprise that with the huge success of that film, a follow-up was rushed into production. This time the studio decided to go the prequel route by telling the story of Annabelle and her time with Mia (Wallis) and John (Horton). They live in a cozy house and are expecting their first child. The baby’s room is decorated with a wide variety of dolls, many of which seem far too creepy for any newborn. One day John brings home a huge box with Annabelle inside and Mia couldn’t be any happier as it’s hard to find and completes a set. I’ll tell you why it’s hard to find. It’s old, cracked, and scary as hell. Why oh why would you put that in a baby’s room?
Soon after Annabelle arrives, their house becomes a haven for disaster. One night Mia is awoken by the sounds of her neighbors being brutally murdered. The killers make their way over to Mia and John’s house where one of them starts whispering for the doll. One of the intruders proceeds to kill herself while clutching the Annabelle doll. Strange occurrences start to happen throughout all hours of the day forcing Mia to have the baby early. Like many possession stories we have seen before, Mia and John move to a new house hoping to rid themselves of their problems. We all know this never works and the demons follow the couple to their new apartment.
The Conjuring was based on a true story and the real Annabelle doll is an old Raggedy Ann doll instead of a porcelain doll that's used in the movie. While that film stuck fairly close to the real life story of the Warrens, I am curious as to why they decided to give Annabelle a completely fictionalized story instead of using the true story that goes along with the real Raggedy Ann doll. There seems to be plenty of information out there regarding it, but maybe this was the faster and cheaper way of cranking out a paint-by-numbers script. I’ve seen enough of these types of movies that always seem to have a priest character (Amendola) and a mysterious neighbor character (Woodard). Is it so hard to create a different type of character that informs John and Mia that Annabelle is a conduit for evil spirits? Even the ending feels unoriginal and tired.
I was relieved to see that the film does stick to the 1970s timeline. I would not have been surprised if they were going to call it a prequel and than randomly set it in a contemporary timeline. The 1970s was one of the smartest choices they went for as it provides for some interesting design concepts to make up for the unoriginal story. The names John and Mia may ring a bell for you as they are clearly named after John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow who played the couple in Rosemary’s Baby. It is very apparent that director John R. Leonetti was inspired by Roman Polanski’s film. Leonetti was the director of photography on The Conjuring so he knows his way around lighting and shooting a horror film. The film sticks with using real effects to give it a more natural feel over relying on CGI. It makes sense with the time period and how horror films were shot in that decade. Don’t worry, the Annabelle doll doesn’t walk around or do silly Chucky type moves.
This may be the biggest project yet for stars Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis. Horton had a small role in The Wolf of Wall Street and has had numerous one-episode appearances in a variety of television shows. Wallis has had some television work on Pan-Am and The Tudors. They are both strong enough actors to keep the characters grounded without feeling like they are ever over-acting or being the bimbos we often find in horror films. I just don’t feel like there is anything interesting about John or Mia. Maybe the point was to make them very normal and bland people. How can you make a movie work with two fairly unknown lead actors playing characters we don't really want to invest our time in?
I wish I could say that Annabelle is as exciting and scary as its predecessor. There are a couple of jumpy moments, but most of the scares tended to be dragged out longer than they needed to be. James Wan is attached to the film as one of the producers. He is the top-notch horror director behind The Conjuring, Insidious, and Saw, and I would have expected it to be better with his involvement.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Go revisit The Conjuring or Rosemary's Baby instead.
RATING: 2 out of 5 TICKET STUBS