Synopsis: A pigtailed doll possessed by a demon threatens a young couple with a newborn baby.
Release Date: October 3, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Horror, Thriller
For horror movie fans, James Wan’s The Conjuring was one of the high points of last year. As frightening and compelling as the movie was, audiences wanted to know more about what was essentially a prop in the drawn-out introduction: the creepy doll that stole the show for the first ten minutes of the film. Now, Annabelle the doll has her own movie.
Taking place one year before the events of The Conjuring, Annabelle is about a pregnant woman named Mia (Annabelle Wallis from “Pan Am”) who is a collector of rare, vintage dolls. One night, Mia and her husband, John (Ward Horton from “One Life to Live”), are attacked by a Manson-like cult in a home invasion. Mia, John, and their unborn baby all survive and are fine, but one of their attackers commits suicide while holding one of Mia’s dolls. The family starts to notice strange things happening, occurrences that all seem to be centered on the doll. The weirdness only intensifies when the baby is born. With the help of a priest named Father Perez (Blow‘s Tony Amendola) and a friendly occult bookstore owner named Evelyn (12 Years a Slave‘s Alfre Woodard), John and Mia realize that they are dealing with a demon who is using the doll as a conduit to acquire the soul of their child.
Although James Wan only acted as producer (as opposed to directing), his fingerprints are all over Annabelle. The film was directed by John R. Leonetti who, as Wan’s go-to cinematographer, shot The Conjuring, Insidious, and Insidious: Chapter 2. Leonetti and Wan make a great team when it comes to making creepy movies and, because of their familiarity with each other, Annabelle fits right in with their other collaborations. Wan’s influence isn’t just limited to the look and tone of the film, either; the script, written by Gary Dauberman (Swamp Devil, Bloodmonkey), has all of the paranormal and supernatural elements for which Wan’s films have become known. The score, a typically atonal and suspenseful soundtrack, is even done by frequent Wan collaborator Joseph Bishara (who may or may not also play the demon: he was the demon in both Insidious and The Conjuring, and is credited as a stunt performer in Annabelle). In short, all of the usual suspects are rounded up, and those who are fans of James Wan’s movies will love Annabelle because of it.
While Annabelle may bring back a lot of the behind the camera talent from The Conjuring, the lead characters, Ed and Lorraine Warren, are nowhere to be found. Even the doll, although vital to the plot, is more of a tertiary prop than a main draw. The main antagonist in the film is the demonic force that wants to make the leap from the doll into a human, and the main conflict is between that demon and the family. It’s not just a movie about a possessed doll. There’s much more at stake than that, so it’s much more terrifying. Of course, there are cliches and tropes that the film falls back upon, some seem like tributes while others appear to be cop-outs, but the biggest breath of fresh air is that Annabelle, unlike all of the stereotypical demonic possession movies, does not end with an exorcism. Annabelle is better than that.
Director John R. Leonetti is a director of photography himself, which explains why Annabelle is shot so well. Leonetti is James Wan’s regular D.P., which explains why Annabelle looks like a James Wan movie. Leonetti and cinematographer James Kniest (who also shot the upcoming Crawlspace) seem to go out of their way to give the film a look that is similar to The Conjuring and the Insidious movies. There are plenty of places where the camera sees a huge frame, just daring the viewer to search for things in the dark recesses of the image (things which they will probably find). There are also many shots with movement in which the camera will swing around to meet subjects as they scurry in and out of the shot. The home invasion scene towards the beginning of the movie is masterfully captured in a one-take, following Mia around as she struggles to figure out what is happening while simultaneously trying to escape. The shot is so effective and the viewer gets so wrapped up in the scene that it takes a couple of minutes before they realize that there haven’t been any cuts. It’s seamless filmmaking, and Annabelle is a better film because of it.
Although it is not as effective of a fright flick as The Conjuring, Annabelle is still pretty scary. The techniques that John R. Leonetti uses to get his scares are straight out of the James Wan book. There are plenty of moving shadows and lurking figures that give the film an underlying creepiness. Suspense is built up to a maddening level through much of the film via textbook application of Hitchcock’s “show them the bomb” philosophy; during one cringe-worthy scene, Mia is working on her sewing machine, and the camera keeps showing her fingers, the needle, her distracted face, then her fingers getting closer to the needle…the audience knows exactly what is going to happen, just not exactly when it will happen. Annabelle also contains one of the most horrifying elevator scenes ever shot. And, outdoing Wan (or perhaps learning from his shortcomings), Leonetti barely shows the demon at all, which is a million times scarier than the lingering shot of the lipstick faced guy that audiences got with Insidious. Just because Annabelle isn’t as frightening as The Conjuring doesn’t mean that it’s not scary. It has truly horrifying moments.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): John R. Leonetti
- Screenwriter(s): Gary Dauberman
- Cast: Annabelle Wallis (Mia)Ward Horton (John)Tony Amendola (Father Perez) Alfre Woodard (Evelyn)Kerry O’Malley (Sharon Higgins)Brian Howe (Pete Higgins)
- Editor(s): Tom Elkins
- Cinematographer: James Kniest
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Joseph Bishara
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA