Horror Movie Review #3: Annabelle

Posted: October 6, 2014 in Horror Blog
Tags: , , , ,

Most people (who know me personally) know by now that I consider The Conjuring to be one of the best horror films within the last decade. It was a classic ghost story that reminded us why the paranormal can be horrifying. It was dark, foreboding, and overall unsettling. I was genuinely surprised when I saw it in theaters, since I was expecting merely a repeat of everything that was Insidious  (which while it had it’s moments, I honestly do not think was as good/scary as people made it out to be.) And out of the entire movie, one of the scariest elements was the doll Annabelle. It was a creepy, demonic force that was brought back into the picture time and time again during Conjuring. She ended up being enough of a popular character that the powers that be thought that her story would be good for a movie. In comes  Annabelle the film, released just this past weekend.

Annabelle follows the story of Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton) who are a couple expecting a child. Mia has a collection of dolls including this new one (Annabelle- pre “Annabelle” name) which is apparently really rare. We are in Manson-era here, with cults being a common fear among the people in the film. But Mia and John live in a good neighborhood, so nothing bad will happen- right? Well, the next door neighbors’ daughter, Annabelle, who just happens to be a part of a demon summoning cult, comes back and not only kill her parents but also to attack Mia trying to kill her unborn child- since they need the soul of an innocent. The cops arrive in the nick of time to save the young couple from the intruding cult followers. But, after being shot, the blood of Annabelle drips down on the doll.
After going to the hospital the couple returns home. As the days go on strange things happen in the house. The sewing machine runs by itself. Weird sounds. The doll seemingly moves by itself. You know, normal things by standards of horror films. Finally one day the stove starts a fire in the house and Mia is home alone. Help arrives in time, and she’s rushed to the hospital and she has the baby- who ends up being fine. Mia says she’ll never return to the house to live there and they need to move. But before they move she has John throw out the doll, because it’s just a reminder of all the bad that has happened.

Jump forward in time and Mia and John move. John is finishing med school/residency and needs to live close to the hospital he’s stationed at. And they needed to move anyway right? Which one was more pressing? Or… did this all just work out serendipity like? Oh well. Anyway, they are unpacking boxes when what should appear? ANNABELLE! Who saw that coming? Mia decides to keep the doll, and put the past behind them. But once again bad things start to happen. Threats appear, weird sounds, all of the basic types of “infestation” which quickly escalates to “oppression.” The couple finds out that the doll is indeed the cause of all of this, and that it is a demon which wishes to take hold of the wife’s soul. [Insert some witty The Conjuring  similarity comment here.]

In the end the couple survive the experience, and the doll disappears and we see what is the set up for the opening sequence in The Conjuring.

This movie left me with some really mixed emotions. I want to like it. I really really do. But after having a day or so to think back on it I realize how much of it was actually just rehashed/reused Conjuring plot points and scares. And all of it comes down to a “climactic end” that anybody with half a brain could have seen coming a mile away.  I won’t say specifically what happens, all I’ll say is that it was a cheap unsatisfying close that a.) didn’t have any weight to it what so ever and b.)pissed me off. There could have been way better ways of ending this movie I feel like, and it ended on such a contrived note that it left me leaving the theater disappointed overall.

Also another qualm I have, and this isn’t just Annabelle specific but across the board with most paranormal horror films that involve the Catholic church, is when the heck did all Catholic priests become demonologists? You can’t see a horror film today without a priest who seems to know everything about evil, possessions, and demons. That isn’t real life. In fact exorcism and possessions had, for a long time, been written off by the church as just ancient rituals and crazy people. Also there has been a big divide with priests then (and now) believing that demons and the devil are symbols for bad and not actually real entities. Only a select few actually knew how to preform exorcisms or knew how to deal with demons. But all of these movies have priests who know what they are doing, or know how to battle demons. My problem with this in Annabelle is that it is just another thing, out of a long list of things in the movie, that is just too damn convenient. The move/job, the priest who knows everything, the friend who is willing to- erm, never mind. It’s just a tad irksome because to me that the filmmakers just keep making things easy again and again throughout the film, to the point that the danger is no longer a danger. Things, although “bad,” worked out too perfectly for the characters.

The demon was also way too powerful. Like… WAY too powerful. When it back handed Father Perez out of the church which basically almost kills the man I almost laughed.

There were also some really bad acting in this movie, which was disappointing since with a horror film like this the acting is the thing that sells it. The scares have no pop if you acting isn’t solid. And it, mostly, wasn’t the writing I think. Yes, the writing could have been a bit more solid, but there was some disconnect in a lot of the dialogue with the actors. At no point did I really feel, outside of one and a half times (which I will talk about) that anybody was really fearing for their lives in this movie. Especially with John. I don’t know if it was actor’s choice or lack of direction from director John Leonetti- but Horton just fumbles through all of his scenes wide eyed like a deer stuck in headlights.

All that being said there was one and half times that this film surprised me. I’ll explain the half in a second. But the first time was the basement scene. There is a basement sequence that is set up fairly a-typically involving Mia going down to a dark basement and trouble ensues. But it follows through with some great imagery that was genuinely creepy. My favorite moment was when Mia finally tries to race up the stairs then turns around and is there at the bottom of the stairs, just waiting crouched. It really was an eerie shot, and one that was unsettling to me.

The next scene was near the climax of the film and Mia is being tormented by the demon and thinks she is slamming Annabelle’s head against the metal crib and it ends up being her baby. It was the first time the whole movie I was legitimately surprised and terrified because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I thought that this mom had just beat her own infant child’s head in on screen and we had watched it happen. I was speechless and my jaw was slack. Silly me. Turns out it was just the demon again toying with her, and it ended up being another one of her dolls. I’m sorry if this makes me a terrible person, but I so wanted that baby dead. This movie would have been so much better if that baby was dead. I would have forgiven the rest of it had that death actually been real- but it was just another cliched trick. There is the ending right there. Mother kills baby, husband comes home and finds the scene and mom is locked up and Annabelle goes on to haunt another. So much better than the ending we got. But no, the filmmakers had to play it safe. And when you play it safe in a horror film you have a film that isn’t scary.

My hopes for Annabelle were high, defiantly higher than they should have been. I admit that despite me listing a lot of things wrong with it, it wasn’t a bad movie. It had its moments. But it’s just another paranormal film in a sea of paranormal films that have been coming out. There is nothing special about it other than the fact that there is a creepy doll. And even that is becoming a norm now. Had this movie dared to go to some darker places it would have been better. But the powers that be seemed content just pumping out scenes that we’ve seen before in about a hundred other films in the last several years. I’d recommend popping in The Conjuring for now and just waiting for Annabelle to come out on BluRay/DVD.

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