Another entry in the long list of horror sagas, the Conjuring franchise has been mostly successful except for one blip on the radar and that was the film that serves as the story set up by this prequel. Yep, Annabelle was awful. In fact, the first Annabelle was so bad that it just ended up being dull for the most part, which is the death knell for these kinds of movies. I honestly couldn’t even tell you why that movie was so bad because I barely remember it; I just know that it was so damn non-descript. Thankfully, this one was another instance (much like Ouija) of the prequel being a better film.
The film is essentially the origin story of Annabelle the evil doll. When a middle-aged couple’s young daughter is killed in a horrific freak accident, they are traumatized but decide to give back to the community by opening up their house to six orphaned girls and a nun, Sister Charlotte. Soon after moving in to the home, the girls begin to notice strange occurrences in the house – lights flickering, things moving on their own and there’s also a very sinister looking doll…
Another successful origin story to accompany a rather dull film. Much like Ouija: Origin of Evil, this film touted a more talented director at the helm (seriously, the director of the first Annabelle had previously directed Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2) and a tighter script along with some solid performances from the kids, particularly that of the lead actress Talitha Bateman as Janice, a young girl stricken with polio. She is impressive for a child actress and her physicality is very believable as well. On top of all that, it’s a very interesting idea to have a main character that is being held back by some kind of disability especially when she is constantly being stalked and chased in scenes as per what you would come to expect in a horror film.
Aside from all that, the film also excels in tension and boo scares (even though admittedly it goes to that well far too often). Much like The Conjuring 2, this film finds most of its tension and suspense in the quiet moments rather than using a great deal of music to incite mood or tone. The story itself is all the more suspenseful because as an audience, we immediately know that Janice is being preyed on due to her weakness and she will have a much more difficult time avoiding disaster. Because of that detail, the gasps are a little bigger and the nerves are rattling just a bit more than usual as well.
With the film not using a whole lot of music (or any), it should be noted that the use of sound effects is “amped up to 11” as they say and stands out quite a bit. From little things like door creaks to footsteps when there should be no one walking around to that freaky bell that rings every time Annabelle’s mother needs assistance. In fact, the couple played by Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto deliver a few of the film’s best scenes even with their limited screen time. While LaPaglia is very subdued in his performance and mostly exists as a stern screen presence, he becomes much more involved later in the film and there is a good amount of mystery surrounding the two characters as to their inner psychology following the death of their daughter. Otto is also quite good as the bed-ridden wife who mysteriously covers up half her face with a plaster covering.
It’s a very successful follow-up to the bland Annabelle and one hopes that the aforementioned film was just a blip on the radar and that this franchise will continue to spur enjoyable movies.
RATING: *** ½
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)