Discover the secret of what
What is one of the main rules of horror? You know, the one where something is less scary the more we know about it. Yeah, that's a pretty big one. So the whole idea of making a spin-off movie to explain the backstory of a scary monster is essentially a surefire way to suck the fun and scariness out of something. I mean, once we know what something is, what exactly it wants and how it's going to get it, it's suddenly becomes a lot less scary than the thing we have no clue as to what it is or wants but HOLY SHIT IT'S KILLING EVERYONE, RUN! So, right off the bat, Annabelle is fighting an uphill battle. It has to be scary, at least as scary as it's parent The Conjuring, despite it also having to provide a good explanation as to everything that is happening. And, big shocker here, Annabelle fails at both.
Annabelle is a 2014 horror film that is a prequel to last year's The Conjuring, though none of the cast return and Conjuring director James Wan is only on as a producer. Here, the film follows pregnant Mia (Annabelle Wallis... heh) and her husband John (Ward Horton) whose lives take a dark turn when a pair of murderous cult members break into their house, attacking them. Yes, really. And after one of them dies while holding a beloved doll of Mia's, strange things begin to happen in their home. Upon learning the events are tied to the doll and their daughter's life is at stake, the couple try desperately to stop the monster, even turning to a priest (Tony Amendola) and a wise black woman (Alfre Woodard). Yes, REALLY. The film was directed by John R. Leonetti (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) and written by Gary Dauberman (Blood Monkey).
|James Wan's The Scarlet Letter is cray-cray.|
Now, to be fair, the idea of making a movie on Annabelle good isn't impossible. But it's pretty clear after seeing the final product that Annabelle had no nobler intentions than to get a quick buck. Nothing about the movie seems really well thought out, which seeing as the film has come out barely a year after The Conjuring isn't that much of a surprise. In fact, from the way the story goes, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if the story was about something other than Annabelle that got refitted. By far what is the most disappointing aspect of the film is the fact that Annabelle is really the main villain. See, whether for budgetary reasons or scheduling ones, Conjuring stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson do not appear in Annabelle. As a result, the film can't tell the story of how the Warrens first came into contact with Annabelle, or as many people know it, the story people wanted to see.Instead, we're treated to the story of how Annabelle became evil which doesn't actually involve Annabelle becoming evil. See, the living doll in The Conjuring is here just an ordinary doll used ludicrously by a demon to connect him to our world until he can claim an "innocent" soul. So, really, the demon is the monster here and not Annabelle. The film ends by telling us that the doll being in contact with that much evil made it evil, but we never do see Annabelle come to life on her own. That's presumably to coming in the sequel, hopefully featuring the Warrens. But for now, the film just feels extremely cheap, without much to give the story any milage. The acting's good, particularly by Wallis, who is sure to be seen again. Woodard is also good, though she doesn't have as much to do and literally plays a spiritual black woman, as if the film could be trying any less.
But overall, the biggest problem with Annabelle is a simple matter of boredom. Restricted by the timeline of The Conjuring and Farmiga and Wilson not returning, the film makes the rookie mistake of revealing the secrets of the monster. And in this case, it's an exceptionally lame reveal. Ultimately, with a neutered monsters, copious jump scares and a laughably cliched story, Annabelle can't conjure up many scares, even with a good cast and a strong setting. Annabelle gets 2 and a half stars out of 6.