Dir. John R. Leonetti
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
In 2013, THE CONJURING conjured up a spell across cinemas worldwide. The based on true events tale of Ed and Lorraine Warrens adventures across America saw the deal with the possessed and even a sub plot involving a certain Annabelle doll. Winning everyone over with its terrifying thrills it certainly raised the bar for horror. Not only raking in rave reviews and awards but its box office revenue helped secure a sequel and spin off expanding on the universe with a series of spin offs including that of ANNABELLE.
Only a year later, and the Annabelle doll has made her creepy return to cinema goers expecting to continue the expectation set by James Wans predecessor/sequel. Opening to a brief reference to the events of THE CONJURING, the action quickly moves to 1968 where expectant parents John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle Warris) dress their babies room with dolls, the pride of them all is a new model in the shape of Annabelle as a gift from John to Mia. Soon after a vicious break in from two members of a cult lead to a brutal attack on the couple which leaves one of the assailants committing suicide, only for the blood to drop on, wait for it… Annabelle. So far so Chucky.
After surviving the attack, the couple move home and begin again but things aren’t quite what they were as a series of paranormal hauntings take their toll on the pair.
Throughout ANNABELLE there are underlining references to THE CONJURING in everything from its tone to its score and more distractingly a note to its origins in repeating the haunting tune of the toybox for key elements of the film. Leonetti’s camerawork made famous from the likes of INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING has been brilliantly passed onto James Kniest who works well to make this feel like it belongs in a universe of recent horror films created by Wan. A curse of kinds that morph the films together and much like how Wans double 2013 release of INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 and THE CONJURING by sharing styles it does blur the lines between making a unique and memorable film.
There are scenes throughout ANNABELLE which scream INSIDIOUS, even its main villain morphs into a fan favourite and while manages to bring the same degree of fear, comes across as a lay imitation in part.
Despite carrying the film forward, both Horton and Warris (who shows a star performance in PEAKY BLINDERS) don’t add much depth to their roles, especially Horton who appears to be both redundant and dysfunctional in being a good husband. Whether this is down to the rigid family dynamics of the 60’s is another question entirely.
Regrettably, despite it’s ability to provoke fear and an eye for some good scares, ANNABELLE has one fundamental problem; Annabelle. Despite her presence from the start, her “presence” takes almost a full hour to appear and when she does, it’s more of a brief cameo than a tour de force. Within the inevitable build up of Annabelle’s evil, there is always the battle with the cult which attacked the Forms. While this makes for a truly terrifying final act, the lengthy turn of events to get to this point are somewhat redundant and care free. The story only really begins with the story revelation two thirds in, in the interim you are dragged along with tactical jump scares and Joseph Bishara’s haunting score. Something we’ve seen plenty of times before with better development.
The story is written as if not to make a great horror film but rather to string along some set pieces to adequately suffice for a sequel to one of the genres most recent successes. While there are some interesting set pieces that redeem ANNABELLE from the dustbin, it is her lack of interaction in the film that is its demise. The creepy doll may be great for marketing however when the film has little to do with a doll and more to do with the cult than a static doll that doesn’t actually do anything in hindsight.
For those looking for a film with a psychotic doll are much suited for the likes of CHILD'S PLAY and DEAD SILENCE, what lies here is a dull attempt to cash in on a fan favourite that redeems itself in its closing scenes and still manages to be the most terrifying film of the year with the image of something far more sinister than the doll in the form of the cults summoning. You will never want to see a pram again.