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Film Review: Annabelle

October is here and that means Horror Films!  Hooray!

Our first fright film of the month is Annabelle, a sort-of-but-not-really prequel to 2013’s well received horror, The Conjuring.  In the latter movie, the opening vignette introduced the world to Annabelle, a possessed doll that was haunting two female nurses who lived together in an apartment.  This was used to introduce the Warrens, a married couple who help people free themselves from evil things.  In the film, they would end up locking it away in their menagerie of haunted things as a way to showcase just how good they were at their job.

Apparently that opening scene was so well-regarded that Hollywood decided to make an entire movie that revolved around Annabelle the haunted doll.  The question on my mind when going in to the theater today was simply ‘Will this be half as good as I want it to be?’  I had my answer 98 minutes later.

It was a resounding NO.

When I say Annabelle was a sort-of prequel of The Conjuring, I meant that they took the creepy doll from the opening scene, asked a completely different writer and director to create a back story for it and managed to bring absolutely none of the original’s frights, acting, or humanity along for the ride.

After a very brief shot of the two nurses from 2013’s film and a close-up of the possessed Annabelle doll, we are shot back in time (one whole year!) to a happily married couple who are expecting their first child.  This being the late 60’s, Mia (Annabelle Wallis) is a housewife while her husband John (Ward Horton) is a med school graduate just preparing for his residency.  They live a nice, quiet life until cultists break into their home and one of them stabs Mia before being gunned down by the police.

As if that trauma wasn’t bad enough, the other cultist somehow performs an evil ritual, possessing one of Mia’s prized dolls.

Afterwards, John seems content with doting on his wife and throwing himself into his job in order to forget what happened.  Having been ordered on bed rest until the baby comes, Mia has far too much time to herself and begins to notice strange things happening around the house.  The first part of the film ends with some moderately well-placed paranormal activity which should have set up the rest of the film for some good ol’ spookiness.

Note that I said ‘should have.’  Once we get into the second half it’s obvious that the filmmakers were not interested in being clever or original.  They simply rehash tired, predictable scares from other, much better films.  Once things escalate, other people finally start to believe Mia when she says they’re being haunted by something, and the ending is exactly what you would expect from a Hollywood rehash of other ideas.

Do I sound a bit disappointed?  Well that’s because I am.  There are no true scares here.  The tension they worked so hard to build in the first half of the film disappears in the second half, and once you actually get to see what is haunting the family, it is very hard not to laugh.

The acting is flat but the cinematography is actually fairly impressive.  It must be difficult to make a lifeless doll look menacing but there are several shots throughout the film that actually made it seem as if the Annabelle doll was truly sinister.

As a movie, Annabelle would have almost been better as a psychological thriller, or something in the vein of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, where nobody really knows what’s going on inside our female protagonist’s mind.  Unfortunately they went with a very by-the-numbers horror and dropped the ball.  Don’t expect to see any films hashing out the rest of the Warren’s trophies any time soon.