|Image Source: Wikipedia
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production Companies: New Line Cinema, RatPac Entertainment, Atomic Monster and The Safran Company
Director: John R. Leonetti
Producers: Peter Safran and James Wan
Scriptwriter: Gary Dauberman
Main Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton and Alfre Woodard
Released: October 3 2014 (US) and October 10 2014 (UK)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Recently released on DVD and Blu-ray but having premiered last autumn (just in time for Halloween), Annabelle is both a prequel to and a spin-off from the 2013 movie The Conjuring. It tells the story of a doll which, over time, causes great terror and puts lives at risk. And, yes, the movie is scary. Not the most frightening film you will ever see, but frightening enough that you will suddenly feel uneasy about having your doll by you in your bedroom (assuming you still collect dolls, like me … I’m only joking).
Annabelle begins in 1970 with first-person accounts of the doll, in a scene which was also used at the beginning of The Conjuring. They are told to Ed and Lorraine Warren, or at least their characters as the real-life couple were ghost-hunters who had told or spread the story of a haunting doll named Annabelle. Then we go to 1969, where the movie begins proper.
We meet John Gordon (played by Ward Horton) and his wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis; a fitting first name for the lead actress), who live in Santa Monica, California, and are expectant parents, and their neighbours, the Higginses. We also see the doll Annabelle for the first time, a childhood treasure of Mia’s which is re-introduced to her by John. However, as the movie poster proves, the doll has a chilling, evil glare in its eyes, one of which appears to be bleeding a tear. Now, I am a man, but if I was a woman, and I had been a little girl, receiving a doll of such resemblance would have scared the you-know-what out of me; I wouldn’t have wanted it anywhere near me. Nevertheless, it’s a horror movie, and whilst I can’t fathom why a doll which looked like Annabelle would not immediately scare a young child, which Mia had been, it is suitably frightening for this story and gives you the chills each time you see it.
Anyway, you can tell that things are too pleasant; something untoward is bound to happen. It comes one night when Mia awakes and hears what turns out to be the murdering of her neighbours. When she returns home and calls the police, she is viciously attacked by the assailants, one of whom is holding the doll of Annabelle. The attack is frightening, violent and bloody, but Mia survives. We learn that the assailants were actually the children of their neighbours, Annabelle Higgins and her boyfriend, and that they are members of a satanic cult named the Disciples of the Ram, where they worship a demon with horns. After the attack, the doll is disposed of, but it keeps reappearing.
And so do the devil worshippers. The Gordons relocate to Pasadena, with Mia having now given birth early due to the after-effects of a fire caused by the disposing of the doll, but the evil follows them. A detective named Evelyn (Alfre Woodard) is brought in to help them, as is their local priest Father Perez (Tony Amendola), but the demonic attacks and home invasions continue, and those who are brought in to help also become targets. It becomes apparent that the only way to stop the plague of evil is to offer up a soul for it to take. The manner in which the evil ghost behind the doll tries to achieve this goal is uncomfortable to watch, and the way in which the situation is dealt with is equally shocking.
Annabelle only has around four or five scenes of genuine threat and horror, but those that are here do deliver. The other scenes take the time, occasionally too much time, to build up the characters and set up the chilling moments. In that sense, this is a lot more about storytelling than actual horror; however, the scariest scenes will make an impact. Some elements will be a little clichéd to long-time fans of the genre, but they are timeless in that they will always get a jolt out of you. Put it this way: even if you have always watched horror films, if you’re walking by your bed and you are suddenly, unexpectedly grabbed by something beneath it … you’d still be scared.
The plot itself is a little familiar; the idea of an evil doll spooking its owners goes back decades, a good example being a 1963 episode of the classic US series The Twilight Zone, which focused on a doll named “Talky Tina” that starts off being gentle and sweet, but becomes evil and causes psychological terror and threatens to kill those around it. (Incidentally, The Simpsons did a parody of this in a Halloween episode with a Krusty doll which was very funny, but elaborating on that here would lower the tone of this review; you really should see it though.) The key differences between the Annabelle movie and Twilight Zone are that in this film, Annabelle looks more sinister, this movie is much stronger for its horror and especially for bloody violence, and this doll possesses a truly evil streak, one which at times is beyond belief. Ironically, the name of the mother who buys “Talky Tina” for her kids in that Twilight Zone episode is … Annabelle. Spooky, eh? (Cue the Twilight Zone music; if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.)
Summing it up, then, Annabelle is a film which will be judged not by the performances of those involved or the strength of its story, but on the delivery of thrilling, horrifying visual elements. In that respect, it does a good job, because while the scary scenes are few and far between, those moments do generally meet expectations. As I said earlier, fans of the genre will not consider this to be the scariest film they have ever seen, and even those who saw The Conjuring may have expected more, but it does provide a suitably horrifying movie experience. And there are rumours of this being the beginning of its own film series. So, despite some mixed reviews, you should enjoy it. Just don’t watch it at home in the presence of your old childhood doll.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good