Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #326
Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 3, 2014
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $255,500,000
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: John R Leonetti
Producers: Peter Safran, James Wan
Screenplay: Gary Dauberman
Special Effects: Cary Ayers
Visual Effects: Arthur J Codron
Cinematography: James Kniest
Score: Joseph Bishara
Editing: Tom Elkins
Studios: New Line Cinema, RatPac Entertainment, The Safran Company, Atomic Monster
Distributor: Warner Bros Pictures
Stars: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Tony Amendola, Alfre Woodard, Kerry O’Malley, Brian Howe, Eric Ladin, Ivar Brogger, Geoff Wehner, Gabriel Bateman, Shiloh Nelson, Sasha Sheldon, Camden Singer, Robin Pearson Rose, Keira Daniels, Joseph Bishara
Suggested Audio Candy
The Association “Cherish”
If 2014 taught me one thing then it would be that people are still terrified of dolls. When news surfaced that John R. Leonetti was set to bring us a prequel to the theatrical behemoth that was The Conjuring, expectation understandably shot through the roof. However, not even Leonetti could be prepared for what followed. Annabelle cleared over a quarter of a billion in box office receipts and that’s quite some return for a film which only cost $6.5m to produce. To put it in context, that’s nearly forty times its initial outlay. So that represents a resounding success right? Financially yes but what of the film? Underwhelmed is the first word to spring to mind. Supremely and unequivocally underwhelmed.
On paper it must have seemed like a winner and the fact that Leonetti could now afford to terraform a small colony of Mars as a result of its success suggests that is how it is regarded. However, what use are a pair of golden balls if your schlong has been constructed from corroded copper piping? It must have seemed as though all stars were aligned after the tremendous success, both financial and critical, of The Conjuring. Wan was on production duties this time and it fell to his director of photography to take up the reigns. I would imagine that the brief was simple; play to the Insidious crowds, go forth and multiply. While it can’t be argued with that box office registers all chimed in unison, Annabelle is regrettably a film without a soul, which I guess is fitting considering that’s precisely what’s on the top of this Raggedy Amy’s wish list.
Charity apparently begins at home so John (Ward Norton) is understandably feeling pretty smug with himself when he takes vintage doll Annabelle home to add to his wife’s collection of creepy-assed antiques. In his opinion his good deed may well have earned him fellatio but spare a thought for Mia’s unborn child. I had a newborn once and, at no point did I consider placing Satan’s plaything at the foot of his Moses basket just to ensure he was wired for terror. Come to think of it, the musical mobile hanging above the crib isn’t a great deal more therapeutic. However, given that this is a prequel to The Conjuring, I guess it would be mean to point the finger at John. Nah fuck it! What was he thinking? Look at this monstrosity, if looks can kill then the Gordons may well have a cot death on their hands.
No sooner has Annabelle taken her place on the dresser, than bad shit starts to happen with startling regularity. With satanic cults exercising their right to do their demonic bidding in their boudoir and domestic fires starting willy nilly, it becomes clear that the doll may well be a conduit of sorts. To their credit, the Gordons waste no time in coming to the same assumption and Annabelle is cast off into the trash can mere yards away from their homestead and their problems appear to be solved. However, you cannot keep a bad doll down, and changing zip code proves fruitless as the morose marionette is the first thing unpacked upon their arrival in pastures new. Maybe their actions were a little erratic? Any prior discrepancies are overruled and the Gordons decide to give her one more shot, despite the fact that she likely picked up Hepatitis in the trash can.
If, at this point, it appears as though I’m being a little pernickety, then I hold my hands up. It’s just that the whole family in peril premise has been flogged like a scabby horse for long enough and that shit started getting decidedly old way back at Insidious: Chapter 2. Moreover, the Gordons are a particularly hard family unit to warm to. Mia’s fine; the uncannily named Annabelle Wallis, who bears a striking similarity to Julie Delpy, does well enough at acting discombobulated and, when histrionics are called for, she exhibits terror admirably. John on the other hand, and this isn’t a blight against Norton’s performance, comes across as somewhat disconnected and vaguely condescending if truth be known. Meanwhile, Alfre Woodard’s bookstore owner Evelyn and Tony Amendola’s Father Perez are called upon to help the Gordons’ spiraling plight but neither have any great influence on proceedings.
Ultimately, it’s left to the scares to lift the experience from the middle ground it perches on uncomfortably and Annabelle comes up short again in this department also. With a film such as this there is often a tendency to rely on quick-cuts and blink-and-you’ll-miss it reveals of ghostly apparitions to free us from our skins and there are plenty here to pad out the running time. However, for Keeper, the singular moment which resonated most concerns an ominous elevator which perpetually stops at the same less than inviting floor. Moments such as these are too few and far between and could’ve raised Annabelle another notch had it not been for such lack of invention elsewhere. As for the doll in question, there can be no denying that she positively oozes consternation but she ends up more of an afterthought once the blackened incubus has been awoken.
Annabelle looks slick and has exemplary sound design as is synonymous with its breed. It is, in no way, an outright failure and any film which amasses over $250m worldwide in box office receipts is clearly doing something right. However, the whole haunted house formula has been done to death too many times already and films like Scott Derrickson’s Sinister have proved how simple it can be to genuinely affect an audience. Leonetti’s film is the epitome of workmanlike but never epitomizes anything greater and comes across as wasteful when you consider the personnel. The doll that chilled our blood so effortlessly in The Conjuring deserved so much more. Nevertheless, the public have spoken in their droves. thus Annabelle 2 will no doubt already be in the planning stages. Here’s hoping next time they buck this particularly disconcerting trend.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Dread Factor: 3/5
For the Dread-Heads: There is an underlying dread to proceedings for sure but a couple of powder puff jolt shocks aren’t enough to get the blood circulating with any real amount of velocity. Leonetti mimics the great Mario Bava for one particularly grim piece of technical trickery, albeit some way less effectively. Alas, moments like this are far too fleeting and never threaten to linger. As for that hellish elevator from Groundhog Day, I’ll take the stairs thanks very much.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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