Copyright © 2014 by Warner Bros. Pictures
Before ‘The Conjuring’, there is ‘Annabelle’, a rare collectible made of porcelain presented as a gift to Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis) from her doctor husband, John (Ward Horton). On the same night, their neighbours, the Higgins are viciously murdered by their daughter, Annabelle (Tree O’Toole) and her lover. They break into the Form’s home and Annabelle takes a liking to Mia’s collection. Mia is stabbed but before more harm can be done, the police arrive and gun down the man while his partner kills herself, clutching the doll. Soon, strange occurrences manifest in the couple’s quiet life and Mia realises the only way of stopping them is by offering this malignant force something dear to her.
As a tease, the demonic doll’s torment of the two nurses in ‘The Conjuring’ got the show off on the right foot and it piqued audiences’ interest enough for a spinoff to be released a year later. Even when James Wan decided to only assume producing duties, anticipation was still sky high for how the prequel would play out. After all, long-time cinematographer of Wan’s, John R. Leonetti, handpicked to shepherd another case from the Warrens should at least be visually unison to the 2013 hit, right?
Having worked on the last three of Wan’s smashes, Leonetti does a respectable job in achieving singularity through a few well-staged fright sequences which could either leave you scurrying to the nearest exit or cower inescapably in your seat. Early on, it is established that a spirit of a girl named Annabelle has resiliently seized control of the doll’s hollowed façade. Although not as innocent as made out to be, the film corroborates the smug-looking plaything’s genesis in a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ setup.
The inclusion of the occult jolts back fond memories of ‘The Exorcist’, ‘The Omen’ (not the pointless remake) and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (which this tale is heavily ‘inspired’ from) and the grisly murder at the beginning effectively sets the course for other chilling moments to come. Trust me, once you are through with the whole enchilada, cute and sweet will indubitably go hand in hand with gory and revulsive. Though we have seen a plethora of ‘damsels trapped in a stalled elevator’ in various forms, if done unnervingly foreboding can still yield unexpected results (of the good kind, anyway).
Unfortunately, the good cannot outweigh the bad. Credit to Leonetti for creating a ghoulish mien befitting of Annabelle’s stature but hackneyed storytelling squanders its potential to be more than just a humdrum affair. Household objects springing to life and acting malevolently. Check. Floors and doors creak for no apparent reason merely to rattle rather than terrify. Check. Ghostly apparition clad in white redolent from the wave of Japanese and Korean spook fest that was prevalent in the early 2000s. Check. An ominous manifestation bent on an unspeakable evil and is conveniently appeased by a nurturing figure. Check.
Do not even get me started on the blatant plagiarism from ‘Rosemary’s Baby’; it is tolerable to name your chief characters after principal actors from the aforementioned old time favourite and it invokes nostalgia when the unmistakable baby carriage makes its ceremonious entrance but no one in their sound mind will accept a second-rate cookie-cutter barren of any ingenuity. For all its flimflam, ‘Annabelle’ comes up way too short and should have simply stayed as a short.
Rated R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror