Review: Annabelle (2014)
Director: John R. Leonetti
Screenwriter: Gary Dauberman
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Tony Amendola, Alfre Woodard, Kerry O’Malley, Brian Howe, Eric Ladin & Ivar Brogger
Runtime: 98 min // Certificate: 15
When James Wan’s surprise supernatural hit The Conjuring was released in 2013, I was hopeful that the era of subpar, “cattle-prod” horror films might finally be coming to an end. My hope was short-lived, of course, when 2014 vomited forward such films such as The Quiet Ones, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Ouija, but at least for a brief moment it looked like the genre might finally be marching, slowly but surely, back to form.
A year later and I must confess to being genuinely stunned as to just how quickly things have fallen apart again. Annabelle, a prequel-cum-spinoff to the aforementioned The Conjuring, is a perfect example of absolutely everything that’s wrong with horror at the moment, so laden is it with every tired cliché and lazy plot device in the book, with barely a modicum of originality to its name. It is a horror film written to appeal almost exclusively to people who don’t actually like horror films, in which dull, faceless stories are injected with a few loud bangs and a bit of voodoo guff in an attempt to trick less discerning audience members into thinking they’re watching something akin to The Exorcist or, in this film’s case, Rosemary’s Baby. Alas, what they’re actually watching is a film that holds them and the genre it purports to represent in utter contempt.
Directed by John R. Leonetti, a man best known for his work on Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (which should give you at least some idea of what it is we’re dealing with here…), Annabelle offers some insight into the backstory of a haunted porcelain doll, first mentioned in Wan’s film. It follows a couple, Mia (Wallis) and John (Horton) who move to an apartment block in Pasadena with their new born daughter Leah after they are attacked and almost killed in their previous home by two members of a Satanic cult.
The allusions to Rosemary’s Baby are obvious, and Leonetti’s film tries desperately to ape even a semblance of the terror and dread that Polanski’s horror classic is able to muster up. Alas, it takes more than an apartment block setting, main characters called Mia (Farrow) and John (Cassavetes), and a frankly offensive reference to Sharon Tate’s murder to capture the genius of a film like Rosemary’s Baby, and though Leonetti deserves a small amount of credit for at least having a go, his film is a tedious slog of inconsequential jump scares and forgettable characters that do a great injustice to the stories he’s trying so painstakingly to emulate.
There’s little else to say really. Annabelle is everything I expected and less, and though Wallis gives a spirited performance as a Mother who can’t quite tell whether she’s going out of her mind or not, it’s nowhere near enough to prevent Annabelle from becoming yet another unambitious, creatively-spent waste of celluloid. That it’s currently raked in well in excess of $200m at the Box Office, when a film like The Babadook – which is flawed, but well worth seeing – has struggled to break even, is testament to just how bad things have gotten for modern mainstream horror.