James Wan‘s The Conjuring is creepy and atmospheric and the exact definition of how to do a slow-burn R-rated horror film with very little blood, but lots and lots of jumps and scares. John R. Leonetti‘s Annabelle is a cheap knockoff, which gets by on its decent jump scares, but mostly comes off as typical horror. Annabelle isn’t quite the next best scare since The Conjuring, but it’s also spooky enough to warrant a viewing, not to mention horror hasn’t had a possessed doll entry in quite some time.
Before The Conjuring there was Annabelle. Annabelle tells the creepy back story of the infamous doll that was last seen locked behind a thick glass case in The Conjuring. The film follows a couple as they locate the doll for their personal collection and then find it to be possessed after a brutal murder ties into the doll’s fate and the couple’s lives.
For a quickly finished prequel, Annabelle slides in almost perfectly as a prequel to The Conjuring. WB wasted no time getting the film to the screen after the success of James Wan‘s The Conjuring and on that note alone the film deserves some credit for maintaining that previously established atmosphere and feel, even if director John R. Leonetti isn’t quite as talented as Wan in terms of buildup and execution of scares. Leonetti also does a poor job covering up the film’s digital bits, which rob some of the scares from their own intensity.
It’s not that Annabelle feels cheaply made or pointlessly made, in fact it actually works well into the mythology that has already been created, but it does suffer from its lack of budget or the way the studio pooled its talent and resources to get this one made in a timely matter. Things might have came out looking a bit more polished if a better director was chosen or even a more experienced cast.
There are still enough R-rated scares to impress most audiences and keep people coming back for more Conjuring-based sequels and spinoffs and that’s mostly a good thing, considering Lionsgate cut off their Saw franchise and Paramount stopped caring so much about their own Paranormal Activity franchise.
Halloween/October is missing its staple series and James Wan and his horror buddies could fit something into that gap without much effort if Annabelle is an example of what it’s like to greenlight something quickly in hopes of getting it in front of eyes by Halloween season. I’d much rather Wan and his crew sit down and develop a game plan, but I also can’t complain too much about R-rated horror when it seems to be disappearing quickly from the mainstream.
Annabelle isn’t quite the slow-burn suspense piece that The Conjuring was and it’s not really the next Child’s Play, because it focuses more on the story surrounding the doll and not so much the doll itself and it also plays off a bit louder and out of left field, much like Wan’s very own Insidious series, which is compacted mostly with loud noises and frightening visuals. The Conjuring and Insidious are two very different types of horror features, yet Annabelle mostly borrows from Insidious and yet tries to present itself as a prequel to The Conjuring, which creates a confusing tone and somewhat scattered agenda.
James Wan‘s name is listed as a producer, but one might question just how much involvement he had as a director, because some of Annabelle‘s most startling moments feel like direct results of his hand and yet most of the film’s weaker moments feel like an amateur director turned in something quick and on the fly.
Those seeking out a mainstream R-rated horror film for the season will have no other options but Annabelle. And that’s okay, because it’s mostly a typical horror film that provides a few scares here and there, but nothing substantial enough to be deemed unique or even creative in the slightest.
Annabelle gets by on its loose (and I mean very loose) ties with The Conjuring and sometimes even Insidious, but it’s mostly just a knockoff that works simply because the director knows how to capture scares at the very least, while occasionally going above that. Not much else can be said and that’s not exactly a slam on the film, but just a realization of modern day mainstream horror and how we must simply do the best with what we get and hope that it gets better.
Annabelle – 6.5/10