Directed by John R. Leonetti
Written by Gary Dauberman
Starring Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard, Tony Amendola, Kerry O’Malley, Brian Howe, Eric Ladin, Ivar Brogger, Keira Daniels, Joseph Bishara, Morganna Bridgers, Tree O’Toole, Zach Pappas, Michelle Romano, Christopher Shaw, Amy Tipton, Trampas Thompson, & Charles Manson as himself!
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For no real reason at all other than the fact that THE CONJURING came up in last week’s countdown, I rewatched the ANNABELLE films (so far, it’s only a trilogy), and figured with my extra time, I’d post my thoughts on them this week. Hopefully, I can do that more often with film series in the upcoming weeks. While the original Annabelle sequence scared the stuffins out of me in the first THE CONJURING film, the films have been hit or miss with the little creepy doll as the star. Still, each of the films have their moments and I’ll get into them here.
ANNABELLE begins with a brief and edited version of the story that was so captivating in THE CONJURING where a trio of kids pass the evil doll on to the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) before jumping back in time a year. The story then focuses on Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton play newlywed couple Mia and John expecting their first baby. As they decorate their newborn’s room, John buys a very familiar doll for Mia to add to her collection. Almost immediately, they notice some kind of ruckus next door and after John goes over to check it out, they are both viciously attacked by a pair of cultists. Surviving the night, Mia is haunted by what seems to be the ghost of the cultists as well as a tall, dark demon that seems to have inhabited the Annabelle doll.
While there are snippets of decent ideas in there (and I’ll get to them later), the main issue I have with ANNABELLE is that it peaks way, way, waaaaay too soon. I feel that if the story would have culminated with the attack by the cultists next door, the film would have A) been more suspenseful, and B) would have made more sense. As is, the cultists almost immediately appear when Annabelle is given to Mia and it’s too coincidental for the attack to occur. Had Annabelle been given to Mia and she starts experiencing the same kind of weird nightmares, hallucinations, and paranormal encounters that happen in the last half of the film, it would have been stronger. Then the cultists show up and there is a physical and paranormal threat for the climax. This plays into the theme from the third film that Annabelle attracts evil forces (but I guess that’s a theme that is developed later). Everything seems out of whack, as if they had all of the puzzle pieces, but didn’t know how to fit them together properly.
The way the film plays out, the inciting moment isn’t when Annabelle is given to Mia, it’s the attack where blood from one of the cultists drips onto Annabelle. This seems to be trying to communicate that it is the cultists blood that makes the doll so evil. I’m writing this review out of order and have seen the other two films, so I know this contradicts everything that the following films try to do by giving the doll a tragic backstory. Again, by jostling the order of events in the film, it makes it feel like the doll draws the cultists towards the newlyweds rather than is coincidentally occurring the night the doll is given to them.
This is a roundabout way of me saying I like a lot of what ANNABELLE has to offer. Director John R. Leonetti paces the action and suspense scenes extremely well. There are a few very terrifying sequences that occur throughout the film. But the order with which they are presented in is problematic and make Annabelle’s backstory and power confusing. I know I’m obsessing about this too much, but it irks me that had just a few things been tweaked and shifted, this film would have been much better received and much more effective. Writer Gary Dauberman who wrote all of the ANNABELLE films and directed ANNABELLE COMES HOME seems to have an extended backstory mapped out, it is just presented in a very convoluted manner in this first film.
The acting is ok throughout. The main couple are rather bland and forgettable, but they do their part and scream and react to the horrors at all the right times. The best part of THE CONJURING was the Annabelle doll sequence, but instead of doing a new sequence, this film takes all of the scares out of that sequence and retells that story. It feels like the recap was an afterthought because it is hastily tells the story then moves on—lacking any of the oompf that THE CONJURING opening sequence AND the rest of the film has. ANNABELLE delivers a few very potent shocks (though most are accompanied by some loud synth bangs that would startle anyone). I found quite a bit of the film suspenseful and well done. If not for the weird way the story played out, I think the first ANNABELLE would have been as highly regarded as its sequel ANNABELLE CREATION.