BLU-RAY/DVD REVIEW: ANNABELLE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JOHN R. LEONETTI / SCREENPLAY: GARY DAUBERMAN / STARRING: ANNABELLE WALLIS, WARD HORTON, ALFRE WOODARD, TONY AMENDOLA / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 23RD
After the monumental success of James Wan’s The Conjuring, it was clear that a new horror phenomenon was on the cards, let alone one with such rich true-life source material - the infamous paranormal investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren - to draw from. So before next year’s The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist arrives, we first look at the backstory of the carved cowbag that is Annabelle the doll. After making a nerve jangling impact in the opening moments of Wan’s film, a spin-off centred on the possessed doll was a plausible notion. However, as the lukewarm reviews have shown, Annabelle is a film that has struggled to hit the same target as its predecessor. Yet, despite the issues with this prequel, there are actually a few factors to enjoy about this surprisingly efficient demon doll story.
Annabelle looks at John (Horton) and Mia (Wallis) Form, expectant parents who are ready for their future family life together. However, when John surprises his wife with the gift of a doll, darkness soon follows as one night of terror leaves a lasting impression on the couple and also leaves something behind, dwelling within their now damned doll Annabelle. Annabelle is a film that hardly rewrites the rulebook, and suffers via direct comparison with its better predecessor and it’s many classic influences, but it is still a rather atmospheric slice of Friday night goosebumpery. The story efficiently ties things up and, while there are some predictable beats along the way, it helps that the film relies more on suspense than in-your-face bloodletting.
The film clearly takes inspiration from Child’s Play and (most prominently) Rosemary’s Baby, and while it’s nowhere near as chilling as the latter especially, at least the story being told offers some genuinely effective scares. Indeed Annabelle has a few fantastically handled frights, including an Insidious-esque haunting scene and an effective elevator sequence - although the trailer does give away some things so be warned. Annabelle herself remains a truly skin-crawling presence, even though common logic dictates that we all would have had the little bugger for firewood before she ever had chance to start raising hell! Still, Hollywood has often exaggerated things for effect (if you Google the real Annabelle doll, she’s actually something you’d have in a kid’s bedroom, as opposed to this thing!) and it adds to the proficient aura of the film.
Annabelle is by no means a Babadook but it is a good prequel that is well delivered by the cast, who actually give the characters a sympathetic edge, which is not something modern horror movies always get right. Dauberman’s script is nothing fresh by any means, but still a fun enough nod to occult, demonic and evil cinema, and Conjuring cinematographer Leonetti handles directorial duties well enough. Although, once again, the film owes a massive debt to Joseph Bishara (who makes a cameo appearance in the film itself) and his fantastic score, which adds another layer to the proceedings and constructs much of the atmosphere throughout.
There is no doubt that veteran horror fans will be ticking off where they have seen some of this before, meanwhile others may be put off by the slower moments of pacing. However, for newcomers to the genre Annabelle is a fine place to start, and for those who can appreciate an old school story that feels torn from the pages of a copy of Spinechiller Magazine (remember that folks?), this should do nicely. Plus, if you look at the extras, the brief Curse of Annabelle featurette (the sole extra on the DVD version, Blu-ray owners get the better package) will raise a few hairs for the more superstitious viewers among you. Sleep tight, folks.
Special Features: The Curse of Annabelle (DVD/Blu-ray) / Bloody Tears of Possession (Blu-ray) / Dolls of the Demon (Blu-ray) / A Demonic Process (Blu-ray) / Deleted Scenes (Blu-ray)