Dir. John Leonetti, 2014
The phrase ‘meh’ springs to mind. Defined as ‘uninspiring or unexceptional’, it perfectly sums up this latest unfortunate offering from the canon of beige horror films. Annabelle, as much as it tries to fight in the right direction, is the very quintessence of ‘meh’.
Focusing on the (in)activities of that doll from The Conjuring, the film follows the travails of a young family shortly after they’ve bought the titular demonic plaything, which is then tainted by the blood spilt during a house invasion by Charles Manson-inspired Satanists. Phew, that’s a mouthful. Needless to say, the overwrought and unbelievable plot does no one any favours, least of all its hardworking lead actors Annabelle Wallis (a spooky coincidence?) and Ward Horton. To use a quote from the film, ‘there are things happening that I can’t explain.’
Leonetti’s films were once comparatively innovative, finely tuning the ‘quiet, quiet, quiet, bang!’ cinematic formula. But the genre is now, thanks to the omnipresent Paranormal Activity franchise and its dire derivatives, dog-eared and worn. Annabelle feels like an unsuccessful attempt to claw back a semblance of originality. No one expected an evil doll-rific masterpiece of Dead of Night or even Child’s Play proportions, but the ‘meh’ to ‘ahh!’ ratio is far from where it should be.
In this sense, Annabelle is also bloomin’ frustrating – something that makes it different from, say, its snoreful contemporary Ouija. The source of this infuriation is a certain rather effective and genuinely quite chilling basement scene. It’s the film’s standout moment. Obvious nods to Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen aside, it conjures fear from intelligent suggestion and the unseen. In my screening, for example, it was met by a collective tensing of buttocks and grinding of teeth in anticipation of the money shot, which, when it came, was similarly impressive.
This, then, begs the question: why is the rest of Annabelle so shoddy and predictable? I could have happily sat down and watched a 99 minute-long extension of that scene. Must try harder.
WORDS: MAX FIGGETT