Let’s get something out of the way early. The most important thing to know about any horror film is, unsurprisingly: is it scary? Make no mistake, “Annabelle” is more than just a paint-by-numbers horror, at times it’s downright terrifying. So much so in fact that it was quite difficult to write this recap of the entire experience. Shamefully, I spent most of my time in the cinema too spooked to pay proper attention to the film.
So if cheap scares are what you’re looking for, you might as well skip the rest of this article and start watching now, as Annabelle has plenty.
Jump scares aplenty
Set in the late 60s, Annabelle, the prequel to last year’s (vastly superior) horror hit “The Conjuring“, draws on the familiar themes of satanic panic and maternal neuroses to create a film which evokes a complementary mix of fear and paranoia.
While the idea of a possessed doll as the trigger for a horror film has well and truly been done before (notably in Child’s Play and the numerous Chucky sequels that followed), as has the use of the distressed housewife as protagonist, Annabelle succeeds as a result of solid acting, clever directing, and the clichés it avoids.
Director James Leonetti earns serious points here for eschewing the easy path of blood and gore, choosing to instead highlight psychological fear over physical horror. Leonetti was the cinematographer on The Conjuring and knows how to use a camera in unexpected ways; successfully employing long tracking shots, camera tilts, and shadows in order to craft simple but effective scenes that are steeped in slow-burning, spine-tingling, menace.
Sure, there are plenty of cheap, and let’s ne honest, flat-out derivative, ‘jump-scares’ throughout the film, but they are well paced and thoughtfully lensed, helping to ensure that they are guaranteed to stay with you for a long time. Let’s just say that you might want to avoid visiting your basement for a while.
For a film that relies so heavily on its actors to carry forward the narrative, it’s a shame that most don’t repay the directors faith. The film does its best to conceal the underpopulated, largely-unqualified cast, with Ward Horton’s performance, in particular, generates stink lines around it.
Annabelle Wallis fares better with her portrayal of Mia, the film’s distressed protagonist. Her performance evokes enormous empathy and in many ways harks back to the classic Hitchcock heroine. You’ll quickly find yourself rooting for the character while fearing the horrors that will likely befall her.
Plot-wise, much of the films action is derived from the bond between mother and child (exploring both its strength and vulnerability) and the constant menace which threatens the duo. While this territory is a classic horror trope and has been well mined by countless better films including Rosemary’s Baby, which the films shrewdly references, Leonetti’s astute direction ensures that this isn’t as much of an issue as it could have been.
In Annabelle, we have a demonic possession film that doesn’t really on special effects or feature an exorcism and doesn’t treat its characters as little more than props. Even the approach to its titular character — the Annabelle doll — is rather novel, though a little disappointing.
At first look, you half expect the doll spring to life in a Chucky-esque rampage. Instead, what we get is a doll, which while undeniably menacing, is arguably irrelevant to the plot. By making Annabelle a conduit of evil instead of evil incarnate, the movie effectively rescinds its invitation to revel in the irrational but endearingly human fear of dolls sprouting to life, supplementing it to abstraction – nullifying it, really – with a run-of-the-mill soul-snatching demon.
Put bluntly, it does little more than look incredibly creepy and you could effectively drop most of the films scares into Paranormal Activity and not notice the difference.
- Sufficiently Scary
- Interesting Cinematography
- Solid Directing
- Wholly Derivative
- Weak Acting
- Underwhelming Antagonist