Monday, October 6, 2014

[Review] Annabelle


Annabelle kicks off this year's Halloween season with decent success. The film is more of a spin-off backstory to The Conjuring, rather than an actual prequel lead-in. Even though this infamous doll was a highlight in last year's consistently frightening, old-school haunted house tale, her own film falls short of The Conjuring's greatness on pretty much every level. You won't find any startling originality or masterful genre craft here, but if you want to get your creepy doll fill, Annabelle mostly does its job.

Mia, played by Annabelle Wallis (holy crap, her name is Annabelle, too!), and John (Ward Horton) are an archetypal 1950's American couple who are expecting their first baby. The film doesn't try too terribly hard to *ahem* conjure up a throwback mood, as The Conjuring did with its 70's vibes. Anyway, Mia is a doll collector and John gifts her the final piece to the collection, Annabelle. Annabelle still looks creepy in her non-possessed/occupied/demonically-attached form, and she's placed on a shelf with the rest of the dolls in the baby's room. Things heat up when devil-worshiping cult members break into the house and take some brutal attempts at Mia's (and the baby's) life, and a mishap with a fire causes a nasty fall. It's all to the point where you'll be thinking, "This baby is screwed."

The film has some clunky pacing, especially early on, where it feels like it's stuck in a state of multiple beginnings. And along with some less-than-fluid cuts and scene transitions, the story settles into a stagnant 50/50 back-and-forth between the mundane and the scary, instead of building tension and momentum as a unit. The climax is quite intense though, and the conclusion is very reminiscent of a certain classic horror film, but it obviously isn't close to as satisfyingly unsettling. "Satisfyingly unsettling" sounds like an oxymoron, but it's the perfect recipe for a horror ending, right?

In spite of Annabelle's flaws, it does bring a good amount of the scares you came for. Worthy jolts, clich├ęs, and borrowings from horror films of the past are delivered as expected, but the most effective moments are actually the ones that don't provoke jumps. Prolonged close-ups on Annabelle's face combined with the screechy score can make the hairs on your neck stand up, and there's a finely executed basement/elevator scene that constitutes as the best sequence in the film. Also, some shallow focus techniques and swiveling cams add a nice touch to a few earlier scenes.

I found myself to be fairly freaked out while I was watching Annabelle, but I often reserve full judgement of horror films until I go to sleep that night. Maybe I was just really tired, but none of Annabelle's imagery really crossed my mind, and I slept like a baby. I guess I'm still just waiting for The Babadook to come along and blow everything away.

6/10

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