October 3, 2014
We have met the creepy-looking vintage doll Annabelle before in last year's excellent and very memorable horror film "The Conjuring." She was just the front act there, showing up only at the pre-opening credits sequence. This year she gets a film all her own. We now get to know Annabelle more and learn how she became demonically possessed.
The setting of this film is in the 1960s in a California suburb. Young couple John and Mia are expecting their first child. One day, John surprises Mia, who was a vintage doll collector, with a huge antique doll with painted ivory face wearing white satin dress adorned by a red bow. It just so happened that same night, crazy satanic cultists attack their home and there was resulting bloodshed. However, since that night, there was no more peace in John and Mia's household, especially after she gives birth to their daughter, Leah.
A big part of why "Annabelle" worked as a horror film is the effective lead performance of coincidentally-named actress Annabelle Wallis as Mia. The character's name Mia, I am guessing, is a tribute to Mia Farrow, who was the star of a horror classic of the 1960s, "Rosemary's Baby." The stroller Mia uses for Leah looked very much like Rosemary's stroller, which is seen in posters of that old film. Ms. Wallis has an elegant beauty and her acting was sympathetic without becoming cheesy.
Ward Horton did well as Mia's husband John. He is a medical student, which gives him a convenient excuse to be a skeptic and always away during the night, leaving Mia alone in the house. Veteran actress Alfre Woodard is the only familiar face in the cast, and she plays their helpful neighbor Evelyn. Her story arc though was disappointing, and may be the only really negative thing I can say about this film.
John R. Leonetti, the cinematographer of "Insidious 1 & 2" and "The Conjuring" makes a respectable directorial debut with "Annabelle." He learned very well from his previous director James Wan, who sits as producer of this film. You can see that Leonetti has the eye for the perfect views to create the most effective suspense and surprise.
I liked the throwback look of this film, with its faded color pallette and meticulous production design. The architecture, interior design, fashion, hairstyles, television shows, pop music all captured the era so well. Even the look of the cute baby Leah looked vintage, like the Gerber Baby. The limitation of technology also contributed to the helplessness factor.
I liked the camera angles that give you a point of view such that you too do not know what will happen next. The suspense could be so intense with the excellent editing and splicing of scenes together accompanied by a swelling crescendo of music. There was that tense sequence with the popcorn, the sewing machine and the tv. There was also that thrilling sequence with the elevator. The timing for the jump scares was effective most of the time, even if you were sort of predicting it to happen already.
This is a film which may divide audiences as to whether it could match the audacity of "Insidious" or "The Conjuring." Frankly, it does not. But as it is, I liked "Annabelle" more than I thought I would. I was expecting the worst, since I hated how the Annabelle doll looked and I can't imagine anyone wanting a doll like it in their house. However, the film managed to transcend that limitation and actually create genuine scares that worked. 7/10.