By Lorraine Fong (15A01C)
Looks familiar? The wide-eyed, rosy-cheeked, red-headed porcelain doll does nothing but chill your bones.
Contrary to popular belief, Annabelle isn’t as hideous as the movie depicts it to be. Annabelle, in reality, is a sweet, innocent looking Raggedy-Ann doll. The movie is actually based on an allegedly true story told by paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren, involving the possession of the doll by a malevolent spirit.
Directed by John R. Leonetti, “Annabelle” is the prequel and spin-off to the horror film “The Conjuring”. Set in 1969, it tells a story of a couple, Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton), expecting their first child. John gives Mia the hideous Annabelle to add to her doll collection, and their peaceful lives take a turn for the worse when Satanic cultists invade their home and stain Annabelle with their blood. Life seemingly returns to normalcy until the demonic spirit left by the Satanic cultists decides to unleash hell unto the family through Annabelle.
First, I must commend the filmmakers for managing to include every possible horror movie cliché in 98 minutes. Large empty house? Check. Creepy dolls? Check. Intellectually challenged characters? Check. They didn’t even forget to include the “you-are-crazy-and-need-to-seek-help” cliché. The list goes on and on. Undeniably, Mia has to be nothing short of stupid to insist on keeping the doll once it re-appears mysteriously not only after being thrown away, but even after being burnt in a house fire which caused its face to melt into a more horrifying mess! In another instance of idiocy, Mia repeatedly leaving her child alone to have its life threatened by demonic forces (yawn) shows just how stellar her parenting skills are.
The lead actors are relatively unknown, and both actors fail to deliver convincing performances. Although Wallis manages to accurately portray the typical distressed and tormented lady at some points, she still seems stiff and disturbingly unfazed by these unfortunate circumstances. For example, while someone’s usual reaction would be to scream and writhe in pain after being stabbed in the stomach, Mia has to be some Disney princess who slumps to the ground daintily and passes out – while being nearly 9 months pregnant! This thus fails to convey the true, horrified emotion that should have allowed audiences to feel more for her character. Horton isn’t much better either as he seems emotionless and incapable of showing genuine happiness, worry, or fear. Whether it is a performance flaw or just part of their portrayed characters, both leads are shallow and undeveloped. Furthermore, they lack chemistry despite their on-screen marriage. This results in an apathetic view of the characters; people only care about Mia’s pregnancy, or about her adorable and extremely vulnerable child.
The only thing horrifying about this film is how unbelievably predictable it is — it’s like the filmmakers decided that all “the scary parts” had to be in the form of extremely predictable jump-scares. A crescendo of violin-created squeaks, a loud racing heart rate, a momentary silence and BOOM! A deafening orchestral blast reverberates as Annabelle/demon/something pops out in your face. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that all jump-scares are particularly bad, but the mere predictability of them renders them ineffective. The mark of a successful horror flick is that scary scenes are highly unpredictable, and that the audience is kept in suspense and at the edge of their seats, completely unaware of the next scare.
The only successful moment of unpredictability (and genuine scares) occurs when Mia bashes Annabelle’s head onto the crib repeatedly, only to realise that it is her own baby as she flings it onto the ground. She grabs the baby and hugs it as it makes an all-too-familiar automated laughter, and the camera pans down to reveal that she is hugging another creepy doll, revealing how the demon can alter Mia’s perception and can easily cause her to kill her own child. While this isn’t even truly a jump-scare, it still manages to be effective in causing discomfort and terror within audience members.
The movie isn’t terrible per se, but as the highly anticipated prequel of The Conjuring, Annabelle simply can’t do justice to the multimillion-dollar franchise. To be fair, the main strengths of the film come in the form of cinematography and style; the filmmakers do succeed in creating an eerie atmosphere and setting the tone for the entire film. Moreover, other than the thunderous and overused “booms”, the movie’s soundtrack is effective in boosting the film’s suspense factor.
As a PG-13 movie, I would recommend this film to horror-flick newbies; every jump-scare can be accurately anticipated, allowing these film-goers to be spared the horror (by closing their eyes two seconds before something hideous pops out). It is still a fun movie to watch with a group of friends, for you can laugh together at the sheer stupidity of a scene, or at a friend who can’t seem to stomach the tiniest tinge of suspense.