Published Jan 20, 2015Spinning off from an anecdotal insert at the beginning of James Wan's far superior haunted house thriller, The Conjuring, Annabelle jumps back a few years to detail the spooky shenanigans surrounding the titular doll. Given to the very pregnant Mia (Annabelle Wallis) by her med student husband John (Ward Horton), the doll ultimately becomes possessed by the neighbour's Satan-worshipping, cult-following daughter after a rather grisly attempted murder in their home involving a knife wound to Mia's pregnant belly.
Perhaps to distinguish itself from the eerily similar — and far more entertaining — '80s horror film Child's Play, Annabelle has little to do with the actual doll. During John's many late nights working, Mia is haunted by sewing machines, record players and the occasional vision of a young girl running around her house. Though these peculiarities motivate some rote dialogue and investigations into the occult — Mia seeks out answers at the local book store where she meets Evelyn (Alfre Woodard), a suicidal comrade with all the answers — they mostly stagnate, as Mia stumbles around her apartment finding jump scares at every turn.
In James Wan's similarly structured and narratively linked films Insidious and The Conjuring, there was a consistent, highly effective, sense of tension and dread throughout. Those films took the time to situate the central family and create a believable dynamic before ramping up the deliberately paced scare sequences. Longtime cinematographer and occasional straight-to-DVD director-for-hire John R. Leonetti (Mortal Combat: Annihilation, The Butterfly Effect 2) doesn't quite have the structural expertise to layer this work with the same compounding sense of dread. Instead, being a cameraman, he sets up an abundance of tricky, protracted sequences where the camera spins around as the character moves about, utilizing the single take gimmick to demonstrate some technical aptitude. It never does much for the horror element and only aids in muddying a style that had already been perfected.
What's even more problematic about Annabelle is its antiquated sense of out-dated, conventional anxiety. John and Mia are ostensibly poster-children for Aryan breeding; they're never given any idiosyncrasy or believable human attributes, instead acting as mere vessels of the idyllic American nuclear family. As such, the central fear and bigger message here is that of standardized heteronormative dread. In The Conjuring and Insidious, the threat to the traditional family came from within; repressed childhood demons ultimately found ways to manifest in seemingly well-adjusted adults to threaten the sanctity of their otherwise perfect family. In Annabelle, the threat is entirely external. The dread here is of the "other" — here represented by the cult, but it could just as easily be visible minorities or homosexuals — without any awareness that this "other" ultimately stems from the very families that assimilate to the status quo.
Annabelle lacks any real social awareness and is very much insulated by the rudimentary anxieties that stem from the sort of rigid ideology of those that have never questioned anything the world has handed down to them. As such, the generic simplicity of the characters and uncomplicated morality leave the ordeal feeling facile and tepid. Since these are basically just Ken and Barbie dolls running around aimlessly, terrified of difference, there's no investment in their safety or success. Instead, we're left with the idiotic character decisions and ridiculous resolution to fill the void between the two moderately effective scare scenes.
The supplementary material included with the Blu-ray is particularly cheesy, suggesting that supernatural occurrences were a regular thing during production. Of course it's all crap and everyone contradicts each other, but at least someone made the effort to market this mediocre piece of breeder dung.