MOVIE REVIEW: ANNABELLE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JOHN R. LEONETTI / SCREENPLAY: GARY DAUBERMAN / STARRING: ANNABELLE WALLIS, WARD HORTON, ALFRE WOODARD, TONY AMENDOLA / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 10th
The Conjuring was such a success that a sequel/prequel/spin-off was inevitable, but rather than taking another page from the casebook of supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, the producers have decided to leave out Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga altogether and instead focus on the malevolent doll first glimpsed in The Conjuring's prologue.
Introducing the doll via the same scenes from The Conjuring, this prequel jumps to a year before, and expectant couple, John and Mia, as John presents Mia with the doll to join her collection. Despite Ed Warren's assumption in the previous film that "there's no such thing as Annabelle and there never was", a nasty run-in with the neighbouring Higgins family's wayward daughter (who is also definitely not seven!) soon convinces otherwise, but John, Mia and the doll survive, if a little traumatised.
From this point, it's only a matter of time before the doll goes on the rampage but a Chucky movie this is not. Annabelle has a lot more in common with Rosemary's Baby than Brad Dourif's homicidal toy, with Mia frequently left on her own as strange things happen around her; left with little to do but question her post-trauma, and later post-partum, sanity.
With all fairness to director Leonetti, director of photography on The Conjuring, the film keeps things mostly scary, and manages to avoid many of tropes of horror movies that leave the audience screaming at the dumb characters on screen. The doll itself is not overly used, even though it's horrid to look at even before it becomes possessed (the real life Annabelle was a much less threatening Raggedy Ann doll).
There's some very effective tension built up with a sewing machine, and the film makes excellent use of the modern horror beats of something scary happening in the background while a character looks elsewhere in the foreground. There's also some nicely creepy gags with a swinging door and a creepy lift; but all of this is letdown by the films uneven pacing. While John and Mia are no slouches when it comes to movie devices - wisely moving homes after the traumatic event and ditching the nasty doll the first chance they get - much of the film is spent following Mia around at a languid pace while things threaten to happen. Once the tension has built to near breaking point and the supernatural threat has been clearly shown on screen, the film makes the mistake of shifting down a gear, losing much of its momentum.
This continues through to a lacklustre ending, the film veering towards two possible conclusions that would have haunted audiences leaving the cinema and instead delivers an ending that comes off as far safer, and much more forgettable.
Despite all of this, the film fails to answer the one burning question raised about Annabelle in The Conjuring: "Why would ANYONE find these horrifying dolls CUTE!??"
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10