Since ... well, since film was invented, horror has a tendency to cannibalize itself. No psycho has terrified audiences without being sequeled, rebooted and re-imagined straight to hell; since the year 2000, this has been particularly true, with films like Saw and Paranormal Activity weaving mythologies that require six, seven, eight films to fully explain.
The 400-Word Review: Annabelle
By Sean Collier
October 9, 2014
Unlike those films, 2013’s The Conjuring primed itself for spinoffs quite organically. That film, a solid hit well before Halloween, followed two paranormal researchers (named for and based on real-life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren) as they tried to clear up a haunting case. In the process, we visited the Warren’s museum of haunted objects — terrifyingly, also based on a real location — and saw hundreds of totems of spook-shows past.
The casual viewer saw creepy objects. The savvy one saw each as a plot in waiting.
The first of these items to receive a full treatment is a life-size, grinning doll named Annabelle. John (Ward Horton) and Mia Gordon (Annabelle Wallis) are preparing to welcome their first child into a TV-perfect ’60s home when a terrifying crime gobsmacks the neighborhood. John and Mia are spared, but things start to get awfully menacing around their now-unhappy home — and the most unusual incidents seem to revolve around that doll.
Now, don’t worry: this isn’t Child’s Play. Annabelle does not devolve into a murderous doll clinking around the hallways; while the doll is well-used for atmosphere and misdirection, the real terror is more sinister in origin (and will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen The Conjuring).
Director James Wan, who added some much-needed vitality to the genre with the Insidious films as well as The Conjuring, steps back and takes a producer credit here, allowing his longtime cinematographer John R. Leonetti to take the helm. That makes it too easy to describe Annabelle as a slightly more workmanlike take on Wan’s model, but that’s precisely what it is; the inventiveness may be missing, but the tense atmosphere and carefully assembled scares are there.
Against its predecessor, Annabelle feels a bit light — but perhaps that’s the point. The Conjuring opened up the playbook, and Annabelle is the first option to be selected. It’s not a classic, but it’s a fine horror fix for the Halloween season. And it bodes well for other Conjuring offspring — starting, it’s now safe to say, with Annabelle 2.
My Rating: 8/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark