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Annabelle (2014)

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Plot Summary:
"A spin-off of 'The Conjuring' featuring the famed possessed 'Annabelle' doll"

Review by
Nina Romain
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Review Date: 14 October 2014 My Rating: out of 5


This spin-off from last year’s 70s horror The Conjuring sees cute young married couple (Annabelle Wallis as Mia, and Ward Horton as John) who are about to have their first child surrounded by 70s Amerciana. John gives his wife a large china doll, and after they fail to realise it’s turning the oven on and trying to kill Mia by burning the house down, the couple sensibly decide to throw it away as they move to another state.

Mysteriously, the doll turns up at their new place. And the couple *still* doesn’t suspect anything and give it pride of place amount their disturbingly large collection in the newborn’s nursery.

Humour turns up in the wrong places, as there’s the helpful bookseller who on hearing that Mia is looking for a book to ward off evil spirits, as she now realises her family is haunted, responds promptly: “Aisle four, follow me.” Now you try getting that kind of service in your local bookshop.

Director John R Leonetti has all horror cliché alerts present and correct: Mia’s new book describes nasty things about to arrive! there’s a big enough china doll collection to open “Creepy China Dolls R Us”! There’s a blonde doll which giggles creepily when you pull the cord in its back, like a demonic Shirley Temple! The disturbing neighbourhood children who don't want to talk while busily drawing crayon pictures! Mia gets an inexplicable urge to go to the dark and gloomy basement! There’s a lift that then doesn't work when she sees something disturbing and need to get back to her flat!

Things get even more predictable when the next door kids start leaving crayon drawings depicting Mia and the baby being run over by a truck. As might be expected, a priest is called in to remove the doll but nothing goes according to plan, the truck turns up after all. Instead of frightening, the film substitutes crooked camera angles meant to convey menace, plenty of dark and stormy nights, and electrical appliances switching themselves on to cook some killer popcorn. However, nothing’s as disturbing as 70s wallpaper.

Writer Gary Dauberman has the film wears its horror heart on its sleeve: it seems to be trying desperately to be a mashup of Rosemary’s Baby (pregnant woman bedevilled by curse) meets Chucky (disturbing doll with evil life if its own messes with family), with a reference thrown in to a Twilight Zone episode featuring a living doll called Talky Tina. Sadly, given the amount of giggling in the audience, the only most frightening thing about this film is the fact it was made.

Horror mashup that makes 'em laugh, makes 'em cry and...yawn. Where's Chucky when you need him?

Reviewer: Richard Mansfield @MansfieldDark
Location:London, UK
Review Date: 13 October 2014 My Rating: out of 5

Annabelle, the freaky looking doll-with-a-demon from James Wan’s The Conjuring gets her very own spin-off movie. I really enjoyed The Conjuring so does Annabelle have the same appeal? Set in 1969 with the Manson murders as a backdrop ‘Annabelle’ opens similarly to The Conjuring with the same footage of two Nurses talking about sinister goings on since they received the doll as a gift. This is based on the real life story of ‘Annabelle the doll’ from the case-book of real life ghost hunters and Demonologists Lorraine and Ed Warren.

The prologue is brief and the action switches to expectant Catholic parents Mia and John (A nod to Rosemary’s Baby). Mia is a collector with a penchant for ugly dolls. The latest addition, the doll we’re all here to see is a gift from her doting husband. Things take a sinister turn when their neighbours’ missing daughter Annabelle Higgins returns home one night from a satanic cult on a homicidal mission killing her parents and attacking Mia and John in the process.

In a suicide bid Annabelle slashes her throat whilst holding onto the doll. A single drop of blood drops onto the doll’s face and is hungrily absorbed and thus Annabelle is transferred to the doll with whatever satanic forces she was involved with. Mia and her unborn child survive and they try to get life back on track but things start getting a little strange. Annabelle the doll seems to change position by herself. The paranormal activity escalates and Annabelle is put in the trash and the family moves to an apartment for a fresh start but what’s that hiding in the last box…miss me?

The trouble with Annabelle is its script and central performances. Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton portray a couple so dull and lifeless you honestly couldn’t care if they lived or died. I didn’t believe for a second that Mia was a doll collector or that she’d have a doll as freakishly evil looking as Annabelle anywhere near their new daughter especially after the carnage. When the devilish doll is placed lovingly above the baby on the display shelf you wonder if she’s been placed next to Mia’s collection of crack pipes. Frustratingly the film relies heavily on jump scares and loud bangs but there is one tense scene with a Demon (played by the terrifying Joseph Bishara who also provided the film’s score) and a jammed elevator door. Admittedly I was quite scared but out of 97 minutes that was it.

The only other scene of note was a baby-in-peril moment but is cut short before any tension can properly build. Not much is made about their Catholic faith either which could have played a much bigger part; perhaps they could have had a hysterical live-in Nun to liven things up a bit. Another thing missing is atmosphere. The set dressing is feels hollow, vintage cars line the streets and fab and funky furniture fill the homes but for some reason it just doesn’t feel like the 60s. Even in her retro dresses Mia looks out of place like she’s stepped off the set of Friends with her new ‘Rachel’ hair do.

The only performance of any note is the wonderful Alfre Woodard as Evelyn, their neighbour and local occult bookstore owner but she is palmed off with an underwritten and clichéd role. Annabelle herself looks like a mass produced prop that would be more at home in a franchised haunted house attraction than a child’s bedroom. With a fresh coat of paint she looks bland and awkward. I guess they were stuck with the design that looks better dirty and distressed than do a re-design and risk spoiling the brand. I really wanted to enjoy Annabelle but I was bored for most of the film, it felt more like a dull TV movie. I was hoping it would at least be good fun despite being a cynical cash-grab.

‘Annabelle’; like the doll herself sits in front of you and doesn’t do anything except extract your hard eared cash. Perhaps they could give the inevitable ‘Annabelle 2’ to a director with a passion for making the best haunted doll film ever and it might be worth a look.

A cynical grab for cash, Annabelle is a rushed Conjuring-lite lazy mess with little to quicken the pulse.

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