It’s finally October, the spookiest month of the year, and I am so freaking excited. The leaves are changing, Movie Bob is doing his annual “Schlocktober” series over at The Escapist, and this year’s horror movies are about to hit cinemas everywhere in an unassailable tide. This week’s Annabelle is kicking things off, though unfortunately not with a bang but with a whimper.
The film comes to us from cinematographer cum director John R. Leonetti and is indented to be a prequel to James Wan’s 2013 horror hit The Conjuring. Leonetti, having been Wan’s associate and cinematographer on nearly all of his films to date, takes a crack at a directorial role while Wan himself fills the position of executive producer. Wan, perhaps the hottest name in the horror genre right now, has certainly shared many of his techniques and approaches with Leonetti, and as such, Wan’s signature style and tone are omnipresent. As anyone who has followed Wan’s career with any attention can tell you, his approach is nothing is not formulaic, but, on the other hand, I suppose there isn’t much sense in fixing what isn’t broken.
Annabelle Wallis stars opposite Ward Horton as Mia and John Gordon, respectively; and, to be fair, to do a fairly decent job with the rag of a script that they had to work with. In keeping with the status quo of The Conjuring, Annabelle portrays the struggles of white, middle-class suburbanites, caught up in some freaky paranormal nonsense, as they are eventually aided by an a good samaritan who eventually helps banish the offending entity. It’s like a damn mad lib with these guys, honestly. You could basically run a search-and-replace program and substitute the names of the characters from Insidious or The Conjuring and get essentially the same, yet inferior, film. But why is that, exactly? Well, let me break it down.
The traditional problem with these generic, cash-in horror flicks (and a cash-it, this certainly is) is that the film startles, but doesn’t ever horrify, which, as one might assume, is kind of a crucial aspect to the whole ‘horror movie’ thing. There are jump scares abound, but that’s kind of all there is. I can point to maybe a single scene in which the audience is made to feel any kind of dread or anxiety, and even that tiny sequence takes way too long to build to, considering how small a payoff it actually is. Annabelle really strikes me as a kind of “baby’s first horror movie” and ultimately leaves the audience unsatisfied and angry at being metaphorically blue-balled for an hour and a half.
I find myself being pretty disappointed in Annabelle (although I can’t imagine why I let my expectations get so high in the first place) because I think there’s some really fertile ground to be tilled with the whole “Warren Files” mythos that The Conjuring had established. Indeed, I hope they keep delving into that cornucopia of possibilities, but, my God, they’ve got to quit phoning it in like this.
So, Annabelle turned out to be a bit of a dud, despite the fact that it made its money back about ten times over already, but that doesn’t mean we should give up the search for the year’s next great horror movie. We’ve still got The Green Inferno coming up in a bit, as well as Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead; but then again, we also had Devil’s Due earlier, so what do I know?
Rating: 2.5 out of 5