Filmmaker James Wan delivered something truly chilling in The Conjuring. With memorable scares and a terrifying atmosphere, it managed to revive my hope in a genre that appeared to be dying to a lack of quality. After the film's success, a spin-off prequel titled Annabelle has been created based upon the doll seen in the opening of Wan's film. However, he has stepped away from the director's chair and tasked his cinematographer, John R. Leonetti, with the duty of bringing writer Gary Dauberman's screenplay to life. Does it still manage to capture the fear expressed in Wan's The Conjuring, or is it as inanimate as any normal doll?
Married couple Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton) appear to have everything going for them. Mia is pregnant with their first child and John has a bright career in the medical field ahead of him. After experiencing a traumatic home invasion by satanic cultists, they begin to observe terrifying supernatural occurrences surrounding a vintage doll.
Where The Conjuring was more about the terror, Annabelle is more about the characters, which is quite surprising. Director John R. Leonetti and writer Gary Dauberman try their best to make the most out of these characters that don't have an ounce of substance to them. The majority of this drama is expressed through concerns about all of the new sudden changes happening in their lives, especially with the baby on the way. This could be a positive element of the film if the characters were more interesting. There isn't anything that separates Mia and John from any other bland person that would make us care more for them. Even once the scares start coming more frequently, we're constantly dragged back to these wooden roles that simply feel like a way to make the running time a little bit longer. By the time the credits are rolling, you'll be exhausted from enduring these characters, rather than being scared.
Even though the film takes place in the past, it's made in modern times, which means that there just have to be jump scares, and a lot of them. If you've seen the trailers, then you're already aware of the majority of the film's tricks. However, Leonetti successfully utilizes the doll throughout the picture's running time by representing the demon's state by the position of the doll. There are two strong scares to be found throughout the entire picture, which is extremely disappointing when you're watching a full length feature. Otherwise, many of the chills and thrills turn into unintentional laughs, as the film's direction becomes more silly as it continues. It becomes incredibly difficult to take any of it seriously. One of the only legitimately scary motifs in the film is the doll itself, which is shown so often that we become somewhat desensitized to Annabelle's scary charm.
You might be asking how well it connects to the story told in The Conjuring. Unfortunately, Annabelle creates huge plot holes in the series of events. Instead of utilizing this opportunity to allow the two films to compliment one another, it decides to play by its own rules. This especially holds true about the third act, as the feature borrows from some of the most well-known horror classics and attempts to pass them off as original content. Given the large amount of effort that this film makes to make us care for the protagonists, Annabelle tries to create an emotional impact, but it isn't even able to scratch the surface. The concept of focusing more on these characters, and therefore making the terror feel even more real, is a powerful idea. However, it's all for nothing if we don't feel connected with the characters to begin with. By the time the credits are rolling, we don't know Mia and John any better than we did from the start.
Let's face it, audiences won't be going to Annabelle for the acting, but they'll go for the scares. Nevertheless, Annabelle Wallis is quite believable as Mia. Even though the screenplay is so incredibly wooden, Wallis brings a little bit of personality to the character, but it still isn't quite enough to completely change our opinion on the role. Ward Horton makes for some rather awkward scenes as John, although his chemistry with Mia feels believable. None of the performances are necessarily brilliant, but they all work in the overall context of the picture. Given the disappointing screenplay, the actors do what they can in order to improve the emotional impact as they continue to be haunted by this demonic presence.
James Wan had a brilliantly eerie atmosphere in The Conjuring, as it managed to incite tension even when it wasn't utilizing jump scares. After hearing that The Conjuring's director of photography was taking Wan's place, I was hoping for a similarly chilling atmosphere. Unfortunately, we're left with an incredibly bland tone that doesn't make us feel much of anything. While there are a few nice touches, such as the demon's make-up, that feel as if they belong in Wan's world, the rest of it simply doesn't make us fear the entity. The score proves to be quite effective throughout the picture, displaying that the music has managed to outshine the visuals.
As a fan of the horror genre, I was hoping for something more. Unfortunately, Gary Dauberman's screenplay works against The Conjuring, rather than with it. Plot holes are abundant, and it fails to create a sense of fear. This is largely due to the ineffective atmosphere and repetitive scares. Even if we become desensitized to the doll by the end of the film, it's still an excellent prop that represents the true evil that the feature is trying to get across. However, the plot seems more concerned with creating substance from characters that we simply aren't able to connect with, although Annabelle Wallis works as the lead in the role of Mia. Annabelle is a missed opportunity that lacks the creep factor we're searching for. Skip it.