Last year, The Conjuring was director James Wan’s finest hour to date. He certainly knows how to toy around with the old-fashioned supernatural horror genre and turned them into a frightening cinematic experience worth watching on the big screen. Of course, part of the movie’s success wouldn’t have worked if not for the masterful cinematography by John R. Leonetti. Now that James Wan has already gone to a different route with Fast & Furious 7, John R. Leonetti is given a chance to direct a spin-off from The Conjuring (with Wan remained as one of the producers here).
The result is Annabelle, on which the titular porcelain doll made her first brief appearance in The Conjuring. The doll is certainly creepy enough, and no doubt that stretching the potentially horrifying side of her origin story into a feature-length movie is a good idea. However, after all the hypes surrounding Annabelle, John R. Leonetti’s first directorial effort since 2006’s The Butterfly Effect 2 is fairly scary, but obviously not good enough to match with The Conjuring.
In this first Conjuring spinoff, Annabelle centres on the heavily pregnant Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and her doctor- husband John (Ward Horton), who are both expecting their first baby soon. One day, John bought her an antique porcelain doll as a present since he knows she has been looking all over the place to buy it.
Then comes one gruesome night when two members of a satanic cult invaded their home and try to attack Mia and John, but the cops arrive just in time to stop them. Even they are already dead, the satanic cult has somehow conjured something evil into the doll that John has bought earlier. Following the horrifying incident, Mia and John decide to move to a new apartment in hope of a fresh start, but it doesn’t take long before the ugly past comes haunting them again.
After working with James Wan as a cinematographer five times from 2007’s Dead Silence to 2013’s Insidious: Chapter 2, John R. Leonetti has certainly mastered a lot of techniques when comes to camerawork used in a supernatural horror movie. Together with the help of cinematographer James Kniest and editor Tom Elkins, Leonetti manages to create an effective sense of dread and foreboding atmosphere for the most part of the movie. Kudos also go to Joseph Bishara’s suspenseful score as well as the excellent sound effect during the scary moments.
Although The Conjuring is blessed with a top-notch cast, the actors here turn out to be a polar opposite in Annabelle. Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton may have the looks of a charming middle-class couple, but their acting is pretty much mediocre that it’s hard to invest in their characters emotionally. Horton, in particular, displays a wooden performance. Not even the presence of veteran actors Tony Amendola, who plays Father Perez and Alfre Woodard, who plays Mia and John’s new neighbour, Evelyn can do much with their underwritten characters.
And despite the interesting premise surrounding the origin of the titular doll as well as the satanic cult, Gary Dauberman’s screenplay is full of tired clichés that we have seen countless times before from a supernatural horror genre. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if the story element is familiar as long as it manages to engage you in many ways but that is hardly the case for Annabelle.
As much as John R. Leonetti manages to ape the classic horror movie of the yesteryears with a certain degree of success, it’s kind of a pity that he still relies mostly on the same old jump scares to evoke an easy reaction from the audience.
However, the most disappointing of all is the lazily-constructed ending. For a supernatural horror movie like Annabelle, I would have expected the director would go all out for at least a satisfying payoff. Unfortunately, I was left dumbfounded when I saw how the movie ends in the way that left me shouting in my mind, “Is that all you got?!“.
Annabelle may have failed to capitalise its full potential to become a worthy companion piece alongside The Conjuring, this spin-off remains a fairly adequate effort for a stand-alone movie.