Sunday, October 30, 2016
13 FOR HALLOWEEN #12: Annabelle
If the success of James Wan’s ‘The Conjuring’ did horror fans a favour by opening the door for ‘The Conjuring 2’, it also did them a disservice by causing John R. Leonetti’s ‘Annabelle’ to exist.
(That’s John R. Leonetti, director of ‘Mortal Kombat: Annihilation’ and ‘The Butterfly Effect 2’, by the way.)
‘Annabelle’ takes an hour and a half plus change to document the provenance of the Annabelle doll and establish it as a vessel for a malevolent spirit – i.e. everything ‘The Conjuring’ did in less than five minutes.
Let’s rattle through a plot synopsis and see how the will to live holds up: newlyweds John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle Wallis) are expecting their first child; they live next door to a nice old couple who are still coming to terms with the disappearance of their daughter to join a cult … and if anyone currently reading hasn’t already put together the characters’ names, the pregnancy and the cultists and come up with a certain Roman Polanski film, then it’s back to horror movie kindergarten for you.
So anyway, one night the cultists invade the old couple’s home; John, alerted by noise, goes to investigate. Things escalate very quickly, John is overpowered and Mia is stabbed in the belly. Only the swift intervention of some trigger happy cops saves the day. (It’s worth bearing in mind, given how explicitly Polanski’s most famous film has been referenced, the circumstances of his then partner Sharon Tate’s death and the fact that she was pregnant at the time. That the makers of ‘Annabelle’ see fit to exploit this as crassly as they do is nothing short of loathsome.)
Back to the finely nuanced human drama of ‘Annabelle’: Mia and her baby inexplicably survive, but her convalescence is interrupted when weird shit starts happening (the pair of them take an age to twig on that the spectacularly ugly doll John gifted Mia is at the epicentre). Said weird shit culminates in a house fire, after which John moves them to a gaudy apartment building. The Annabelle doll goes with them. Whaddaya know, weird shit keeps happening. Only now Mia’s baby is at risk as well. Slowly, with the help of a book shop owner who specialises in arcane titles … and, seriously, what is it with second hand bookshops in horror movies? How come they’re always stocked with mildewy hardbacks containing nothing but pictures of pentagrams and images of the devil? And how come these text-less tomes always fall open to an image that’s exactly like the weird shit the protagonist’s been experiencing but wouldn’t have got a handle on if it wasn’t for the second hand bookshop owned by the massively over-talented (and usually ethnic) character actor slumming it in a nothing role (here Alfre Woodward)?
‘Annabelle’ is set in the early Seventies (not that the period recreation ever entirely convinces) and is full of genre tropes that would have been old and tired even then. The panoply of references to other movies – ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘The Omen’ and ‘Deep Red’ provide obvious touchstones; there are plenty more – are off-putting enough, but most damnable is the fact that it’s never really scary. The Annabelle doll – creepy in its two or three short scenes in ‘The Conjuring’ – loses its frisson the longer it remains on screen; by the end, it’s merely ugly. Set-pieces that, on paper, should have been tense, are either mishandled or marred by lapses of basic logic or common sense as regards the characters’ decision making processes. The acting, apart from Woodward, is bland. The cinematography is flat and uninteresting.
Remarkably, it made a fuckton of money at the box office – over $250 million from a budget $6.5 million – making ‘Annabelle 2’ an inevitability. David F Sandberg, whose feature-length debut ‘Lights Out’ did a similar cleaning up at the box office number, is attached to direct. Whether a narrative or psychological hook can be found that makes the Annabelle doll scary – pace the lifeless ventriloquist’s dummy in ‘Magic’, still the best scary doll film – remains to be seen, but the director trade-up is to be welcomed.