“There are things happening that I can't explain.”
The Conjuring was one of my favorite horror films of the past decade and it even managed to make it into my list of the best films of 2013, which is a huge achievement considering I’m not a fan of the genre. Despite how much I enjoyed The Conjuring, I still had very little expectations for its prequel, Annabelle, because from the get go it seemed like the producers were simply trying to bank on the success of the first film. That is perhaps the reason why they rushed this film to theaters only an year after The Conjuring. The budget is surprisingly smaller and James Wan’s direction is missed here. I want to begin my criticism with the technical aspects of the film because The Conjuring was one of the better looking horror films I had seen, but from the opening scene in Annabelle the contrast is huge. The lighting and the eerie setting that was so effectively used in the original is lacking in this prequel. It’s strange considering that director John Leonetti was the cinematographer in The Conjuring, but here he fails to give the film a similar look. Instead of those amazing shots Wan delivered, we get several close ups of the doll’s face which never actually does anything. This film looks as ugly as the vintage Annabelle doll does and it lacked the eerie atmosphere that worked so well in The Conjuring.
If at least the story or characters would have been half as interesting as The Conjuring I would give Annabelle a chance, but nothing about it really worked for me. The story is predictable, the characters are uninteresting and boring, and there are very few scary moments. Leone should stick to his work as a cinematographer which is an area where he has proved to be talented, but as a director this is his third flop. If it weren’t for The Conjuring’s success this film would have been sent directly to DVD because even the performances were wooden. Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton fail to deliver compelling and interesting characters we would care for. That lack of sympathy for them hurts the film’s chances to scare us. The Conjuring had set up such an interesting premise that there were a lot of interesting things that could’ve been done with this prequel. Unfortunately here we discover that the doll that was the scariest thing in the paranormal investigator’s closet (enclosed in a glass shelf) actually isn’t all that eerie as it seemed thanks to Gary Dauberman’s uninspiring script.
Despite how much Annabelle disappointed me, I still have to admit there were two or three shocking moments that sort of worked for me. The film does become predictable and familiar at times relying on the sounds of rocking chairs and appliances going off on their own at night. After so many close-ups of the dolls face, it lost its eeriness. The three moments I will rescue from this film involve the opening scene where we see the neighbors get attacked by a cult from the window, then the scene we see from the trailer where the small girl runs towards the door turning into the adult Annabelle, and finally the elevator scene which was perhaps the scariest moment of the film. Other than those three moments I wasn’t really shocked by Annabelle. The characters and the story were so boring that at times I felt like snoozing for a few minutes. It was a huge disappointment.