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Annabelle

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
2014
Studio: 
Warner Brothers
Genre: 
Supernatural
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
A
Aspect Ratio: 
2.40:1
Directed by: 
John R. Leonetti
Cast: 
Annabelle Wallis
Ward Horton
Tony Amendola
Alfre Woodard
Movie: 
2
Extras: 
2
Bottom Line: 
2
Video: 
Click to Play

The hugely popular 2013 supernatural thriller, The Conjuring, tells the tale of a New England haunting that drew the attention of controversial husband and wife paranormal investigation team, Ed and Lorraine Warren. While the main focus of the film was on the haunted Rhode Island farmhouse owned by the Perron family, The Conjuring also gave us more than a glimpse into the lives and other investigations of the Warrens – the highlight of which involved a cursed doll named Annabelle.

While we got but a taste of Annabelle’s story in The Conjuring, the film’s producers immediately went to work on developing a “spin-off” for the film’s breakout star, and, within a year of The Conjuring’s exit from theaters, Annabelle swooped in to fill the gap between the latter film and its inevitable sequel. The question was, however, if the film’s writers could stretch what was an admittedly neat subplot into a compelling feature-length film?

Annabelle opens with a variation on the scene that sets the stage for The Conjuring, with the Warren’s interviewing the young nurse and her roommates about the cursed Annabelle, before turning back the clock to 1969, to the doll’s original owners, a Santa Monica couple named John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle – yes , Annabelle – Wallis) Form. Mia and John are expecting their first child, and John surprises his doll-obsessed wife with a very rare new doll for the collection that’s taken up residency in what’s to be the baby’s nursery. Mia is immediately taken by her new gift, and clears out an extra-special spot on the shelf for it before retiring to bed.

Later that evening, Mia hears a disturbance at her neighbor’s house, and wakes John. The couple run next door to investigate, but John tells his wife to wait outside. He quickly returns, covered in blood, and instructs Mia to go back to their house and call the police. However, Mia senses someone else in the house, and soon comes face to face with Annabelle – the estranged daughter of her murdered neighbors – clutching her newest doll in her arms. As Annabelle backs Mia into a corner, Annabelle’s murderous accomplice sneaks up behind Mia, and stabs her in the stomach. John arrives before the killers can finish the job, and holds them off long enough for the police to arrive and gun down the murderous couple.  As the police wheel Mia out on a stretcher, she sees Annabelle’s lifeless body slumped against the wall of the nursery, still clutching the doll, and a single drop of blood falling into the doll’s eye.  Mia awakens in the hospital, and is elated to discover that her baby is alright. She also learns about Annabelle’s motivation for the murders of her parents, and her part in some sort of Manson-esque satanic cult called The Disciples of the Ram. 

Mia is eventually discharged from the hospital and put on bed rest until the baby is born. For obvious reasons, she instructs John to throw his gift away, and he obliges, but soon after, she begins to experience strange phenomena. At first, it’s just little annoyances, like the sewing machine turning on in the middle of the night, flickering lights, and strange sounds, but, in time, the disturbances prove more terrifying and, ultimately, life-threatening, prompting the couple to leave their house and the horror of Annabelle behind them.  

Months pass, and Mia has given birth to the couple’s daughter, Leah, and has also settled into a new apartment closer to John’s work in Pasadena. Things seem to be back to normal for the Forms; that is until, whilst unpacking some of the last of their boxes, Mia finds the doll she’d asked John to throw away months earlier. Comforted by the period of normalcy, however, Mia decides to put her superstitions to rest, and, once again, prominently displays the doll in Leah’s new nursery, once again opening the door for the spirit of Annabelle to wreak havoc with their lives.

As I said at the outset, my biggest concern going into Annabelle was whether or not the film’s writers could stretch out a five minute minor subplot into a 90 minute feature. In the end, they juiced the idea for a lot more than I thought possible, but still just shy of a full cup, if you get my meaning. The first two acts of the film are actually pretty good, with a few really effective scares, a nifty period setting, and the clever cult conceit that really lends that opening act a deliciously dark vibe. Sadly, by the time film limps toward its final act, you can tell that the writers had exhausted all of the good stuff in the first sixty minutes and were forced to resort to the same old CGI beasties and jump tactics we’ve been bombarded with since the late 90s.

I also missed the all-encompassing sense of dread that permeated The Conjuring – an almost claustrophobic feeling of unease that actually had me watching a large chunk of the film through splayed fingers, and grimacing in anticipation of the next big scare. While there are certainly moments in Annabelle that definitely had me ill-at-east, the film was lacking in the suspense department. I think the main reason for this is that, save for one seen involving the Form’s new baby, I never felt truly invested in any of the characters to the degree that I did with The Conjuring’s Perron family. 

While I understand the logic behind making Annabelle something of a quickie holdover until the next chapter in the Warren’s saga hits theaters, I can’t help but feel that the story of Annabelle would have worked better at half the length, or as a secondary plot to a longer Ed and Lorraine Warren film, perhaps paired up with another one of their “investigations”.  Of course, I don’t make those kinds of decisions, and, given Annabelle’s massive box-office take, it’s a damned good thing I don’t (at least as far as the bean counters are concerned).

Warner Brothers’ Blu-ray presentation of Annabelle is, as one would expect, quite impressive, with a pristine 2.40:1 transfer that is tack sharp and teeming with fine details. The film’s “vintage” look calls for a subdued color palette that is rich with nostalgic gold and amber hues, but primary colors pop, especially reds and blues. Contrast is near-perfect, with rich, deep blacks, but I did notice a bit of banding in a third act sequence involving a pitch dark basement.  The complimenting 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track wreaks havoc with the surround channels, and is instrumental in the effectiveness of most of the film’s biggest scares, with a robust and balanced mix that balances the nerve-jangling musical stabs with whisper-quiet dialogue wonderfully.

Bonus features are lacking, with just a quartet of short EPK style featurettes, as well as a collection of eight deleted scenes.

Fans of The Conjuring looking for the same sort of gritty, character-driven scares will probably be let down by Annabelle as this film is much more gimmick-driven and lightweight in comparison. It has its moments, however – especially the first act – and, for that, it’s deserving of at least a rental.  

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