I will start this by saying that I am, and I have always been, a huge fan of James Wan from his writing to his directing and to his producing. Whenever I see his name, I know I’m probably going to enjoy what I’m watching.
Since I do adore him so much, what is love without some constructive criticism?
Before I go any further, I will explicitly say that I am aware of all of the credited positions in Annabelle, and I am aware that James Wan was a producer, not a director or writer, for this film. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t see hints of Wan’s work sprinkled here and there throughout Annabelle, but I would consider these to be homages to Wan and of course to The Conjuring, of which Annabelle is a prequel of sorts.
I’ll probably start there. Annabelle is being promoted as a prequel to The Conjuring, but I think it would be better promoted as its own entity. While the Annabelle doll did have a small part in The Conjuring, it didn’t play too large of a role in the overall plot of that film. It feels more like Annabelle is just being connected to The Conjuring because of the massive success that The Conjuring had last year. The font used in the title is the same in both Annabelle and The Conjuring, and the paranormal investigating couple is briefly mentioned in Annabelle, but other than that, there really isn’t much similarity.
This is just my opinion, but I think if they wanted to tie Annabelle in as a sequel to The Conjuring in a more solid way, then Ed and Lorraine Warren should have had a larger role. This would have tied the movies together in a more comprehensible way. I’m not sure if this is really what they were going for when writing Annabelle, or if it’s just a marketing ploy, but I personally would not refer to Annabelle as a prequel in any way.
Now onto the actual specifics of Annabelle. It is a decent movie. I was thoroughly scared in the theater. I wouldn’t say that it’s original or groundbreaking in any way though.
The story is typical of a traditional paranormal horror movie. An attractive young couple goes through a traumatizing event, finds themselves haunted, moves into a different house and still remains haunted. It’s a solid idea, but it’s nothing new.
My main problem with the story was with character development. Our attractive couple doesn’t really have a lot going for them other than being the attractive couple. Mia (the wife) has a thing for porcelain dolls and John (the husband) is a struggling medical student turned doctor, but other than that, they’re kind of boring. It’s hard to connect with them because it’s hard to see them as anything more than cookie-cutter characters.
There is a side character, played by Alfre Woodard, who is completely contrived to feed the fire about demons and spirits and to save the attractive couple. Genuinely, the only time we are treated to her back story is to give context for the ending of the film. It felt like a wasted (and quite frankly stereotypical) opportunity for me with a story arc that was a bit obvious from the character’s first introduction.
Despite these problems with characters, the movie has some pretty terrifying stuff. This can really be broken down into about three parts that really stick with you, and unfortunately one of those is included in the trailers. The most terrifying scene for me personally included a basement, an elevator, and an antique baby carriage.
In more of a production sense, I was having some problems in the beginning of the film. The editing seemed too mechanical for me, and it was too fast for the dialogue that was being presented. Even the camera angles during this entire section of the film just didn’t fit the situation. Shots were dollying in, tracking to the left and the right and basically just not remaining still. If the movie was actively trying to show something eerie while this was happening, it would have worked fine, but it was for character introductions and small talk dialogue. It didn’t sit very well with me.
The most positive things I have to say about this movie is that the sound design, costume design, and art direction were pretty fabulous. It all blends together to create a mood that genuinely fits the late 60s, and provides an immersive and scary experience. Also, Annabelle herself is perfect. Any shot with her in it is scary without even having to try. She has a very good design.
Overall, Annabelle is a decent movie, but I wouldn’t rush out to the theater to see it. As of this review, it’s set to be number one in the box office during its opening weekend, surpassing the highly anticipated Gone Girl, most likely due to it’s use of The Conjuring in its promotion.
I would predict that this name dropping and comparison to The Conjuring will probably hurt Annabelle in the long run because the two movies really don’t compare. As a stand alone film, Annabelle probably would have fared decently over time, but instead it will always have to be in The Conjuring’s shadow.