Director: John Leonetti
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard, Tony Amendola, Eric Ladin, Brian Howe
Release Date: October 3rd, 2014
In the horror feature The Conjuring, dosage the main couple depicted investigate supernatural activities and maintain a basement of artifacts and items that have been used in cases of demonic possession beforehand. One of those artifacts— a creepy-looking doll named Annabelle— sits in a glass case, seek seemingly innocuous and perfectly still.
She wasn’t always that way.
In the prequel Annabelle, the story of that terrifying doll is told in gory detail as we learn the roots of her possession. As the text at the movie’s beginning notes, dolls have been used for many things over the years serving as “conduits for good and evil” for many religious ceremonies.
Taking place in the late 1960s, the young married couple of Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton) here are expecting their first child and have heard about cults growing in the United States, with Charles Manson streaming across the news. But that news seems far away and distant.
Not as distant as they hoped.
One evening, the couple– who are expecting their first child– are lying in bed when a deadly attack happens next door. Members of a cult have come to town and when one of those cult members dies (after attacking Mia and John), she’s holding one of Mia’s little dolls that becomes demonically possessed. Meet Annabelle.
The story surrounds this young couple as they deal with strange occurrences in their home— a sewing machine that turns on automatically, a stove that nearly burns their home down, a doll that keeps moving from one room to another. Writer Gary Dauberman has all the makings of a strong horror film here and uses these strange events surprisingly well, building suspense when needed. There are a few fake-outs here but they only raise suspense for when the real action occurs. When it does, its unrelenting pace will both surprise and terrify audiences.
There is one undeniably persistent scene here that deserves special recognition. As Mia is watching a soap opera in her bedroom, she is sitting and sewing methodically using the sewing machine. While she is, a bag of popcorn is burning on the stove. Audiences won’t know what will explode first (the popcorn or the sewing machine) and where the scare will come from but it’s the way that the filmmakers build tension here that will keep audiences enthralled and surprised when the situation goes awry. It’s easy to build a movie around scary music and pop-up scares; building realistic tension is much more difficult and it’s something that Annabelle does time and time again.
Eventually Alfre Woodard and Tony Amendola enter the picture, playing the friendly neighbor and the local priest respectively. Of course, these characters make some foolish decisions (we know that the priest’s decision to take the doll home with him won’t work out for him) but they are grounded characters who oftentimes act differently than the stock characters we’ve seen before.
Annabelle, which succeeds even more than The Conjuring, is the rare horror movie that delivers great scary moments and the tension that so many other horror films lack. It’s a testament to both Dauberman director John Leonetti that this movie– about a possessed doll– rises above similar fare and offers up some of the best scares of the year.
Review by: John Hanlon