2 October 2014 | LloydBayer
As a horror film, Annabelle is technically effective but lacks a good story and the finesse of a seasoned film maker.
As a prequel and spin-off of The Conjuring – 2013's highly effective horror film – Annabelle does what it promises, even if it does so one jump and one jolt at a time. But that's all you get, jumpy scenes done to perfection, with little or no atmosphere and a story that disintegrates before it reaches a satisfying conclusion.
One of the most important aspects of The Conjuring and older sibling Insidious (both films directed by James Wan), is the cinematography and how it wreaks havoc with the viewer's peripheral vision. By this I am referring to events occurring off-center, or in some corner of the screen that is oblivious to on-screen characters but very obvious to the viewer. Consider a scene where a mother watches over her new born baby. The scene is shot in the living room where the right half of the frame is composed of the mother and her baby and the left half is a hallway that leads to other rooms in the house. Without shifting focus from the mother and child, we see something or someone lurking in the hallway behind; something that shouldn't be there in the first place. While this tactic is nothing new to horror-thrillers, it works for the whole purpose of inducing dread, thick and slow, before the actual jolt hits a few seconds later. The scariest scenes in Annabelle are made up of these moments, and at times we are left guessing what lurks in the corners. And is probably why cinematographer John R Leonetti of those preceding films is tasked with directorial duties in this film, while Wan himself is bumped up to producer. Leonetti plays it safe by treading down Wan's beaten path but without any surprises of his own.
Playing the aforementioned mother is Annabelle Wallis (freaky coincidence?) as Mia Gordon. Mia has a doll collection, one of which is the titular vintage doll gifted by her medical student husband John (Ward Horton). After surviving a horrific attack from a satanic cult, the Gordons have new guests that won't leave. At first Mia starts seeing things and becomes increasingly paralysed by fear while John begins to doubt her sanity. It's a stock approach to crying wolf in horror movies. It takes a while to dawn on them that something has latched on to Annabelle, making the doll a conduit with increasing intent on harming them and their new born baby. Consultations with a librarian and a priest reveal far greater implications, thus leaving these young parents to ward off hell by going right through it.
On one hand, the look and feel in this film is a copy-paste version of Insidious, but concentrated with sporadic moments of numbing fright. We've seen it before in classic horror films – young parents who must literally go through hell to save their child's soul. It's the same concept here but effective enough for a low budget horror film. Like a stern disciple, Leonetti is on par with Wan's technical approach. Cinematography, hair raising sound design (including deliberate moments without sound), and some decent tension will garner a few screams from the audience, but that's about it. On the downside, there isn't much of a story for a script based on real events and don't even expect anything along the lines of an animated 'Çhucky' doll. It's not about what the doll can do but about what's in the doll -If only they had built on that frame of thought. After some well-timed jump scares in the first half, all we are left with is a murky conclusion owing to underwritten supporting cast members whose inclusion leaves the ending stale and cheap.