Set against the backdrop of Charles Manson and his drugged out family of killers as well as a time when people were questioning whether God was dead, Annabelle features the demon doll first seen in James Wan’s film The Conjuring and the creepy looking thing scares very thoroughly indeed. On the plus side, there are some gooseflesh inducing moments and clever little touches that the audience may miss while screaming at the more obvious “scare.” There are not many though so it behooves the viewer to pay close attention, if that is possible with the rest of the audience screeching and jumping at the events unfolding on the screen. On the not so plus side, a lot of the scares are formulaic and although they work there are points taken off for lack of originality. The movie is, however, impressively entertaining and scary.
Older viewers may not find the film not quite so impressive, although that may have less to do with age and more to do with the fact that James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious, Saw) did not helm this picture, most likely because he was too busy dealing with Fast & Furious 7 and all the problems behind that beleaguered feature. (Paul Walker died before production was finished on all his scenes which added additional time, and grief, to the schedule.)
Sitting in the drivers seat on Annabelle is John R. Leonetti. If the name sounds familiar it is most likely because viewers have seen his name on the credits of Sleepy Hollow, The Conjuring and Insidious, amongst others as Director of Photography. This goes a long way toward explaining why the demon doll, Annabelle manages to scare so thoroughly visually. The film looks spectacular in term of lighting and the ability to see all the creepy, and downright scary, bits that other DP’s might miss or gloss over.
The film is the “backstory” of the dangerous doll shown locked in the Warren’s museum of haunted relics in their home featured in the prior film. The movie begins with the two ladies from The Conjuring repeating their story about the doll and how they found out it was infested with a demon. The film then opens with a long leisurely look at the two main protagonists who are in church playing “thumb war” during a sermon.
Set in 1970, presumably just before the story of the two nurses in The Conjuring, the doll is a present for the pregnant female protagonist Mia, played by Brit actress Annabelle Wallis (The Tudors, Peaky Blinders), bought by her husband John, played by Ward Horton (Wolf of Wall Street, Christmas Wish List). The doll itself is the last of a “set” and Mia is very pleased with it.
Shortly after, their neighbors – good friends who lost their daughter to a cult – are murdered and the killers come into the young couple’s house. Mia is stabbed in the stomach and the police arrive in the nick of time to save the young husband and wife. A detective tells Mia and John that the killers were, in fact, their neighbor’s grown daughter and boyfriend who belonged to a cult. The murdered couple, the Higgins’, are obviously meant to mirror the LaBianca murders by true life cult members from the Manson family.
Fast forward to Pasadena, California where John is working his hospital internship and Annabelle becomes more active in her assault against Mia and her baby. The rest of the film is about the mother and her small cadre of family and friends fighting the demon.
In terms of casting, Horton and Wallis look absolutely perfect as the 1970’s couple. Their features belong in that time period, where other actors, even being placed in the period clothing and hairstyles would just not fit in. The two young actors knock it out of the park in terms of performance and have a brilliant chemistry together as a young couple being attack by supernatural forces. Alfre Woodard (Copper, 12 Years a Slave) as Mia’s bookshop friend Evelyn does a brilliant job in the limited amount of time she has on screen. Tony Amendola (Once Upon a Time, Continuum) also makes the most of his short performance as the family’s priest, Father Perez.
Lovers of horror films will enjoy this offering unreservedly. Lessons learned in Insidious and The Conjuring have been used to good effect here. Two scenes in particular will bring goosebumps marching up and down the viewer’s body and at least two good jump scares will guarantee that bums will leave seats. Annabelle the demon doll does an impressive job of throwing the scares at the audience and a lot of them will be thoroughly spooked by the action on screen. Annabelle opens in cinema’s countrywide on October 3. A word to the wise, be sharp eyed, the scariest things on screen are not necessarily right in front of the camera, kudos to director Leonetti on his ability to “double scare.”
By Michael Smith
Brenden Palms Theatre