Now given 98 minutes to move around (on its own, of course), prepare to face the fact that the porcelain doll which surprised and shocked us in The Conjuring is not so threatening after all. With half-baked execution and writing, Annabelle becomes the latest addition to this year’s horror failures.
Ah, sunny California, with its equally sunny 1970's people. Take couple John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle Wallis) for example – one’s well on his way to become a doctor while the other will soon deliver another family member, respectively. Shame how one doll is all it takes to ruin everything. Then again, to be fair, dolls aren’t designed to warn its owners “right now the blood of a satanic cult member is inside me.”
Cash-in, prequel, spinoff or, personally, intermission before the next Conjuring, there’s no denying the originally-Raggedy-Ann-but-now-porcelain doll has major appeal in James Wan’s 2013 megahit. Just 5 minutes and it’s a star. The producers have picked the right, for the lack of a better word, evil force to focus on, though their choice for the director and writer suggest otherwise.
Like cinematographer Wally Pfister in his directorial debut Transcendence, John R. Leonetti pays too much attention on the imagery instead of its impact on the plot and viewers’ emotions. Annabelle’s style is more polished and controlled, resulting in the absence of what makes The Conjuring work – somewhat-crude angles and organic movements that generate a visceral feel and constant uneasiness. However, when Leonetti decides to emulate Wan, which he does for the home invasion and basement/elevator sequences, the film Annabelle could have been is made visible.
Gary Dauberman’s screenplay doesn’t help either. Frankly, Chad and Carey W. Hayes’ script for The Conjuring is nothing groundbreaking, but the characters, the cast and the scenarios warrant attention when things are fine or not so much. How could you do the same for someone who’s paper-thin, not to mention ridiculously predictable like Alfre Woodard’s Evelyn or Tony Amendola’s Father Perez? Two more things to note in the film are the very forced climax and its portrayal of faith, more overt but ultimately unnecessary unlike The Conjuring where it’s sparse yet has a purpose.
Nonetheless, the aptly named Annabelle Wallis plays her role well, evoking a motherly aura and looking really convincing being terrified. Unfortunately, the effect is buried should she be around the wooden Horton and whenever the film “forgets” to horrify or, at the very least, makes the proceedings interesting.
What could have been a companion piece to The Conjuring is instead a yawn-inducing show. Still, there’s always Universal Pictures’ Ouija to look forward to, which from the trailers alone seem to be on its way to where Annabelle is now – towards money rather than its supposed destination of genuinely scaring us.