Last summer delivered us a refreshingly old-fashioned horror movie in the form of The Conjuring. Director James Wan found a way to work through old genre tropes in order to produce an effectively jumpy flick that oozed atmosphere and allowed the audience to have fun at the same time. Within that film were were introduced to the doll Annabelle. A possession of Lorraine and Ed Warren, the doll was said to be possessed by a demon. While Annabelle did not play much of a role in the proceedings of the film itself, she was a figure which certainly conjured up some interest among fans of the film. Who doesn’t like a good old creepy doll, right? Well, the producers have been quick off the mark to produce a spin-off feature based on the doll in question. While the intentions may have been admirable, what we have been delivered here is perhaps one of the laziest and criminally boring horror movies of recent years that will make you pine for the gleeful mayhem of Chucky.
Taking place in 1967, the film follows expectant parents Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton), who move to Pasadena following the brutal murder of their neighbours and an attack in their own home. The attack is thought to have been the actions of Occult worshippers, who it seems were trying to conjure up something from hell. It soon turns out that what they conjured may very well have attached itself to Mia’s doll, whom she calls Annabelle. As their baby is born and they try to start a new life in Pasadena, the demon within Annabelle begins to torment Mia, leading her to believe that her newborn baby is in mortal danger.
The experience of watching Annabelle is like embarking on a laborious car journey that you’ve travelled so many times before. Every sight you pass, every turn in the road you take, you’ve done a thousand times before that you could almost do the trip blind-folded. Annabelle borrows and steals from horror films of the past to the point where it only comes across as unimaginative rather than homage. Couple this with a sense that all involved don’t seem entirely aware of how lazy they’re being gives Annabelle a grating sense of self-entitlement. It truly believes it’s terrifying, when it is in actual fact, far from it.
The amount of clichés dispensed in this run-time is almost too painful to list. It never seems to settle on one form of horror; jumping from the static shocks akin to found footage, to demonic possession, to ghosts, and then back through again. Never does Annabelle the doll herself ever pose a threat, ala Child’s Play, which seems to be missing the point entirely as to why horror fans desired an Annabelle movie. Let the doll actually do something!
I will commend the production design, as the 60’s setting is well maintained, but in this day and age, that’s not a particularly hard thing to accomplish. Director John R. Leonetti has had great success as a cinematographer in the past, The Conjuring and The Mask being two previous credits, but he lacks experience as a director (the last film he helmed was The Butterfly Effect 2, say no more), and here he has created a bland horror movie with very little unique personality to speak of. What’s worse is the technical departments; the editing is sub-par, but the sound mixing in particular is utterly disastrous. You’re either being deafened by over-the-top screams, or wincing in pain at the head-ache inducing musical score- all crashing and screeching violins, because, y’know, that’s ‘scary’. I would have liked to have fallen asleep in this movie, but the sound design made sure it was going to keep me awake until the final bloody frame.
It is rare that I wish for a movie to end, particularly one which only clocks in at 98 minutes, but the sequence of events that constitutes this film left me so impassioned, so mind-numbingly bored that I was gazing at my watch within the first half hour. The loosely threaded plot just about strings together the horror sequences, but each sequence only seems content in employing the same horror effects as the one before it; drop the volume low, crank it up with you want to make its audience jump. It is not through a mastery of suspense that any audience reaction is achieved, it is by simply making it too loud, alienating the spectator and forcing a reaction from them.
I think I’m going to cut my review a little shorter here, as Annabelle is not a film that I feel deserves to have much more said about it. It is most certainly the worst film I have seen this year thus far and is merely a film hoping to cash in on the popularity of The Conjuring this Halloween. Do yourself a favour and don’t give it the satisfaction; Annabelle is the least anyone could do with such material. Soul-less, joyless, and utterly forgettable.