The problem with haunted doll movies is that animating the doll too much runs the risk of it becoming a Chucky-style comedy.
This also limits what directors can do with haunted dolls, save for the very-much-seen-before “how did the doll get there?” scenes.
This is where Annabelle (2014) ultimately fails to deliver any real scares.
While based on a true story, the facelifted Annabelle doll isn’t scary enough on its own to make this movie memorable, failing to reach the hype generated by The Conjuring, released the year before.
The Usual Formula
The plot of Annabelle follows your usual haunted house movie formula: strange paranormal activity that builds towards an all-out showdown.
There’s nothing with that, but Annabelle misses the mark with both, unable to scare nor put viewers on the edge of their seats.
In fact, the best scare (involving a little girl running through a door) was shown in the trailer, unwisely – something that ruined what otherwise would have been a terrifying movie scene experienced first time.
As for the plot, it moves along at a steady, albeit muddled, pace, following a largely lackluster backstory of how the doll became haunted.
The fact that this backstory is also pure fiction begs the question as to why the writer (Gary Dauberman) couldn’t have come up with something creepier – or at least original.
Low Scare Factor
Unfortunately, every “scary” scene involving Annabelle has been seen before: the haunted doll appearing in different locations around the house (one location being a rocking chair, of course), the haunted doll returning after being thrown away, and the haunted doll turning its head during a slow close-up.
Sure, the Annabelle doll itself is an unsettling sight (kudos to the design team, as no one in their right mind would keep a doll that looks like that), but this alone is not enough to carry any horror movie – let alone Annabelle.
This leaves viewers holding on for the final scenes. And there is one horror sequence at around the three-quarter mark that surprises with a demon reveal, however the demon’s appearance is more laughable than scary.
The director knew this, as the demon is shown quickly—and upside down—to hide the bad CGI.
Unnoticeable Score And Sound Effects
Viewers expecting the blood-curdling score and sound effects of Insidious (2010) will unfortunately be disappointed.
Although not a James Wan entry (he co-produced and left the direction to John R. Leonetti), this is simply another department where Annabelle doesn’t live up to the hype of films it’s been rightfully linked to.
That’s not to say the score and sound effects of Annabelle fail to complement the movie’s visuals, however. But what it doesn’t do is enhance the scare factor of its horror scenes, or jump scares, to really leave an impression.
In other words, the score and sound effects of Annabelle ultimately go unnoticed for the movie’s 99-minute runtime.
It’s there, but nothing to send chills down spines – something that fans of Insidious might have been expecting or even looking forward to.
Annabelle Wallis – The Real Star
It’s quite ironic that Annabelle Wallis, who plays main character Mia Form, is the definitive star of Annabelle – not the titular character.
It’s through her on-screen conviction that viewers get a sense of the horror that her, and husband John Form, face, helping to generate some investment in an otherwise bland horror film.
In fact, as an expecting mother for the first quarter of the film, a mother for the rest, Annabelle Wallis’ character Mia provides enough relatability for most people of a slightly older generation to appreciate.
She’s far from your run-of-the-mill scream queen here, with a performance that’s probably the most praiseworthy aspect of Annabelle.
The Right Tone, But Nothing To Stand Out
It’s fair to say that not many would have heard of John R. Leonetti before Annabelle came out.
His prior credentials include Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2, but James Wan fans expecting a little more from Annabelle will be disappointed with John R. Leonetti’s overall effort.
This is due to how Annabelle was partly marketed under James Wan’s name. John R. Leonetti strikes the right tone for Annabelle—the color palette and lighting creates a good enough atmosphere—but it’s nothing to make the film stand out memorably, especially if compared with Insidious or The Conjuring.
One might also argue that the $6.5-million budget for Annabelle was too low, or perhaps misused.
This is particularly evident for the CGI demon, which, although briefly shown, somehow gives Annabelle a lasting B movie feel.
Annabelle fails to deliver memorable horror across a 99-minute runtime in which the best scare was (mis)used in the trailer.
While linked to James Wan, Annabelle is in no way as frightening—or as well directed—as The Conjuring or Insidious, failing to reach the high bar these movies set.
Still, Annabelle is worth watching as a Friday popcorn flick, especially for those with a real fear of dolls.
Annabelle is surely the most unsettling-looking doll to come to the big screen, despite the seen-before, clichéd haunted doll scenes the writer opted for.
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