There was no doubt that director James Wan’s 2013 horror masterpiece, “The Conjuring” would be a tough act to follow. Warner Brothers was eager to capitalize off the success of “The Conjuring” and pushed “Annabelle” into motion rather quickly. Based off the Annabelle doll that was featured heavily in “The Conjuring”, “Annabelle” features James Wan in a producer only role and has his cinematographer from previous directorial efforts step up into the director’s role.
Some of you may remember that “Annabelle” was among my top 10 most anticipated films of the fall season. The trailers were well cut and looked creepy as all hell. Perhaps later when I found out of my disappointment with the actual product had less to do with the fact it was so anticipated in my mind but instead because of its lacking production (let it be known I saw it after I saw the less than stellar reviews came out for it). “Annabelle” is by no means an unwatchable film, it fact a large portion of the second act is scary and had me looking away from the screen a few times. Everything is very well shot and produced by director John R. Leonetti. However the script is uneven with many ideas either abandoned or not fully realized; with an unforgivably bad ending.
“Annabelle” explores the origins of the demonic doll that Ed and Lorraine Warren have to keep locked up and blessed by a priest twice a month. Before it came into their possession, a young couple with a baby on the way collects antique dolls for their child to have later in her life. One night though the young couple and their neighbors come under attack from a satanic cult from which they barely escape with their lives. Soon though the wife begins to notice strange things occurring even when they move out, the “haunting” only seems to get worse. Little do they realize that the demonic force behind it all has latched itself onto one of the dolls and will stop at nothing till it takes one of their souls.
From a synopsis “Annabelle” does sound intriguing. Original? Far from it, but hey, “The Conjuring” was far from original as well. The difference between the two is the team of writers. Although Chad and Carey Hayes hadn’t had a breakout success up to “The Conjuring” they had a lot of experience writing and executed a well thought out script with multiple layers. Then taken by the experienced hand of James Wan turned it into something special. “Annabelle” was written by Gary Dauberman, a man with very little experience and isn’t able to execute the good idea (which didn’t give much for director John R. Leonetti to work with). Taking place in the 1970s with cults being prevalent in that time period, Dauberman could have capitalized on that opportunity and brought in more social aspects of that time period. There also seemed to be drama brewing between the couple but it never goes anywhere, and the mythology (that should have been expanded on) feels muddled and unexplored.
This all being said, the first job of a horror film is be scary. If the movie is scary many of the film’s flaws can be overlooked. For awhile I was able to do just that. Although the movie does start off slow and does stumble a bit to create some atmosphere by the second act it found its footing. Many of the scenes were really creepy and most of that is a testament to the guidance that director John. R Leonetti got under James Wan. Many of this is familiar territory but that doesn’t mean it can’t be freighting still!
Leaonetti is a capable man behind the camera. He frames shots with finesse, and graces the screen with beautiful visuals. A lot of times he won’t even always show “the scare” on screen either, he will off center it from the camera’s vocal point and it does help add to the atmosphere and a show off a level of technical skill.
Yet one of the other biggest duties of a director is too get the best performances out of your actors. Perhaps Leonetti did that, if that’s the case these are really some poor actors. Annabelle Wallis (strange conidence) and Ward Horton play the young couple. Most of the scenes they are passable but many scenes show their lack of range and Ward Horton is tries way too hard to be the super slick husband. Tony Amendola is serviceable as he always is but Alfre Woodard has more wood in her performance than Pinocchio. Unlike “The Conjuring” ,whom had the acting talents of Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, ili Taylor, and Ron Livingston., this film doesn’t have that stand out acting that “Conjuring” had.
However the biggest sin this film commits, is the ending. This is one of the worst endings I’ve seen in a while. When everything the movie has been building up and makes it to the grand finale it’s very abruptly ends, in a half assed rushed finale instead of something, I don’t know, decent? I could have overlooked most of the flaws of “Annabelle” but that really crumbled any foundation it might have had.
“Annabelle” is watchable and will get some jolts out of you. I’m still very excited for “The Conjuring 2” that’s returning director James Wan and the original screenwriters. I would still tell you to give “Annabelle” a look but here is an imperfect horror film but show a series trying to stay familiar but also expand.