Friday, October 17, 2014

Annabelle (2014) Review:

As recently as the last half a century, dolls have been mostly used in cinema and in pop-culture for their looks. It is very questionable to who ever constructed such toys would think they excited kids, rather than creep them out. When referenced, the most notable creation people remember is Don Mancini's Child's Play (1988) series starring Brad Dourif as the infamous Chucky. Another one that comes to mind would be James Wan's Jigsaw from the Saw (2004) series. Even Billy from Dead Silence (2007), who was also headed by James Wan had their share of memorabilia. Then when Wan's The Conjuring (2013) hit theaters, viewers were briefly introduced to Annabelle,...another doll with some serious attitude issues. So what is the story behind this new addition and is it uniquely different from that of our other doll counterparts? Mmm...tough to say. It has its moments but more often than not, it comes off as a standard affair.

It is creepy,...but that's it
The Annabelle doll, like many others, was once just a collector’s item. Unfortunately, the period of time at which it was made is the problem. During the late 1960s, a normal family is attacked by a group of cult members for unknown reasons and along with that the doll becomes possessed. Gary Dauberman's first theatrical screenplay isn't bad, but it also isn't anything special. The fact that after seeing this movie, the background to why Annabelle needs to be kept in a glass case at the Warren's is so important is clear. But other than this, the writing lacks clarity - specifically on cult rules. How does one possess a doll with such ease? Who actually possesses the doll? A newly created demon? Or the individual who possessed it in the first place? All of which these questions get relatively skimmed over with explanations like - "Crazy people do crazy things" or "Cults summon demons". These are very generic answers, considering the pace at which it runs.

Cast wise, the family played by Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton put in believable performances but do not stand out. Even veteran actor Tony Amendola (better known from Antonio Banderas' The Mask of Zorro (1998)) plays his typecast role - a priest. It's nice to see him, but again, nothing new. The most likeable character of the whole group was Evelyn (Alfre Woodard), a local bookstore owner. Evelyn had charm and character arc that was far greater than the rest. It's characters like these that viewers need more of. When it came to visual style, the majority of it was average to slightly above. James Kniest's cinematography is frequently flat. John R. Leonetti's direction is standard on most cases too. This is unfortunate due to how many horror films he's worked with in the past as the director of photography. This includes, The Conjuring (2013), Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), Piranha 3D (2010), Dead Silence (2007) and Child's Play 3 (1991),....even Jim Carrey's The Mask (1994). In fact, there was a scene that could've been used as a twist ending but was then ignored. That would've been more horrific if it had ended like that.

Lost your carriage?
The violence is there but it is also very dry. I'm not sure if Leonetti was going for the "less is more" approach but it didn't work. Considering the scares aren't effective either because the Annabelle doll does barely anything. The movement of the doll is even more restricted and rigid than Chucky, Billy or Jigsaw. The only thing creepy about it was its face and never ending stare. Even eye movement or creaky head turning would’ve helped the doll feel more intimidating. The only elements that go above and beyond their mark are some tense scenes, special effects and music. The best scene to the movie is located in the attic. Whenever a baby cries,...its a bit unsettling. The special / practical effects look decent although what is given isn't frequent. Composer Joseph Bishara's music is alright. He does include emotional and creepy tunes, which involve heavy cello and piano. It’s bit more effective than The Conjuring score he made a year before, even though it does borrow from it because the stories are connected. Is it a decently made movie? Assembly wise yes, an experience? Not if you seen movies like this before.

Its connections to The Conjuring (2013) does give some insight but its own origins are bit cloudy. It's made professionally all the way down from its acting, special effects and music but it is rarely effective at being scary. Its execution is derivative at almost every level.

Points Earned --> 5:10