Monday, October 6, 2014

Review: Annabelle

by Adam Riske
Better than I thought it would be.

Annabelle was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a cheaply made piece of garbage expressly put together to capitalize on the success of The Conjuring. Instead, Annabelle is a suspenseful, even classy spin-off worthy of a look. If Annabelle were part of an SAT question, it would be to The Conjuring what Insidious: Chapter 2 was to the original Insidious. Not great, but good enough.

Is Annabelle original? No. Does it have something worthwhile to say? Nuh uh. In fact, it barely has any themes that I can identify. Is it Casper worthy (btw…have you voted for the Caspers yet)? Probably not. But it is entertaining, and being simply that is fine. Annabelle is also a bit edgy, which came as a surprise as The Conjuring, for as much as I enjoy that movie, is a bit dull when it comes to being “hardcore” horror. Annabelle is less concerned with you having fun than The Conjuring was, especially in the early going with a ritual killing fashioned after the Manson cult. The cult sequence got under my skin, which I’m sure was director John R. Leonetti's intention. It works.
The plot in brief: The story of Annabelle begins before The Conjuring. It’s a prequel. A couple played by Ward Horton (who looks like if a young Ron Howard and a young Richard Dreyfus had a baby) and the amusingly named Annabelle Wallis (who’s such a PYT…seriously she’s one of the most attractive women I’ve seen in a movie in a long time) begin to experience supernatural occurrences after the husband brings home a gift for his expectant wife – the vintage doll Annabelle. One night their home is invaded by a satanic cult who not only attacks the couple but also conjure a demon that now rests inside of the doll.

One aspect of the movie that I appreciate is that it is earnest. Annabelle doesn’t wink at the audience as if to say “haha this is a silly movie about a killer doll,” but instead handles the material about as matter-of-factly as it can. It is also a religious movie to an extent; the couple are devout Christians and even employ a priest to help rid them of the evil supernatural spirit that manifests not only in Annabelle but in its own form as well (the actual demon is a great effect once you see it; it’s shot in darkness, so I believe it’s practical makeup but I could be wrong). I am not a religious person myself and some of the religious speak in the movie comes across as ham-fisted, but I respect a horror movie for taking that approach. It humanizes the characters as opposed to making them ciphers who don’t believe in anything but themselves. These are good people who want to save each other (plus their baby) and you want to see them get out of this bad situation.
Much of that rooting interest is because the two lead performances by Horton and Wallis are engaging and sympathetic. Also, I have to say I am somewhat surprised how well director Leonetti has fared with Annabelle. He is primarily a cinematographer (for movies such as The Conjuring) with a short list of directorial credits including the abysmal Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Annabelle is much better than Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. I think much of the credit for Annabelle’s success also has to be attributed to James Wan and co. for providing the blueprint. This movie feels nearly the same as The Conjuring in look and pacing.

I haven’t negatively criticized Annabelle yet, and that’s surprising me even as I write this review. I think the reason is because I genuinely enjoyed everything. The performances are fine (they’re not exceptional). It’s a handsomely made movie and features a knockout of a set piece where Annabelle Wallis’ character is being watched by a demon, first in their apartment’s storage room and then on the stairs leading up to their home. The scene plays out similar to watching a nightmare. It’s a sequence I am still thinking about days later. I loved it.
So, I’m going out on a limb. I enjoyed Annabelle despite the great majority of critics who have panned it. Take it for what you will, but I honestly feel if you give it a chance you might enjoy it, especially if you’re a fan of The Conjuring. We horror fans devour a big stack of movies during October. Annabelle is going to be better than at least half of them, so what’s the risk?

8 comments:

  1. I'm glad I've got you to nudge me to watch movies I might otherwise have skipped. Haven't seen this yet, but I'll track it down sooner or later thanks to Adam "Agin' the Grain" Riske — just like Muppets Most Wanted (I assume the only time anyone will compare Annabelle to MMW).

    Having just rewatched The Conjuring (which worked for me way more than I thought it would the second time), does Annabelle tie in with that movie's "origin story" for the doll? I don't see how it could, but that's probably why I'm not a multimillionaire director throwing Hollywood hot tub time machine parties.

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    1. POSSIBLE SPOILERS They do have it tie together but it's in an unobtrusive way similar to something like Monsters University.

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  2. Right on, Adam. I think in the context of present day, the movie's pretty good considering no one knows how to make a good horror movie anymore. Except Wan Direction of course!

    The husband felt pretty worthless to me, and Alfre Woodwar's character seemed she was simply a plot device to move the story.

    Was it just me, or was anyone on pins and needles for that doll to come to life? I'm actually glad it didn't. I think someone on set (wisely) said don't do THAT, because then the movie becomes Chucky. Lastly, I wish they didn't deliberately make the ghost of Annabelle look exactly like Bathsheba from The Conjuring. That's like what JJ Abrams did with his Super 8/Cloverfield monster.

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    1. Wan Direction 4 Eva! I agree with you about the Alfre Woodward character. Good call.

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  3. Thanks Adam


    You had me at "She's one of the most attractive woman ive seen in a movie" and topped it off with mentioning probable practical effects.

    I also like these types of movies. Im a big fan of Magic from 1978 directed by Richard Attenborough. A movie I don't hear mentioned very often. It is from 1978 though.

    Its on my to watch list. Cheers

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    1. I have Magic on my list of movies to watch this month :-)

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    2. Excellent. I hope it still plays well. Last time I watched it did. Its been a while. Come back with an update afterwards

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  4. I completely agree with your assessment of the movie. There was one scare I found later was in the trailer that really gave me chills. I thought it was better than most of the studio horror movies that came out last year. It's funny but I kept thinking that I found the mom very pretty. I would also like to steal the baby and raise it as my own.

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