We have met the creepy vintage doll Annabelle before in last year’s excellent and very memorable horror film “The Conjuring.” She was just the front act there, showing up only at the pre-opening credits sequence. This year, we get to know Annabelle more and how she came to be demonically possessed.
The setting of this film is in the 1960s in a California suburb. Young couple John and Mia are expecting their first child. One day, John surprises Mia, who was a vintage doll collector, with a huge antique doll with painted ivory face wearing white satin dress adorned by a red bow. It just so happened that same night, crazy satanic cultists attack their home and there was resulting bloodshed. However, since that night, there was no more peace in John and Mia’s household, especially after she gives birth to their daughter, Leah.
I liked the throwback look of this film, with its faded color palette and meticulous production design. The architecture, interior design, fashion, hairstyles, television shows, pop music all captured the era so well. Even the look of cutie baby Leah was vintage, like the Gerber baby. These things also contributed to the scariness factor because of the limitation of technology that the characters have on hand.
A big part of the success of “Annabelle” as a horror film is the effective lead performance of coincidentally-named Annabelle Wallis as Mia. The character’s name Mia, I am guessing, is a tribute to Mia Farrow, who was the star of a horror classic of the 1960s, “Rosemary’s Baby.” The stroller Mia uses for Leah sure looked like Rosemary’s stroller which is seen in posters of that old film. Ms. Wallis has an elegant beauty and her acting was sympathetic without becoming cheesy.
Ward Horton plays Mia’s husband John, who is a medical student, which makes a convenient excuse for him to be a skeptic and always on call during the night, leaving Mia in the house watching television or working on her sewing machine. Veteran actress Alfre Woodard is the only familiar face in the cast, and she plays their helpful neighbor Evelyn. Her character though had a story arc which probably the only negative thing I could say about this film.
John R. Leonetti, the cinematographer of “Insidious 1 & 2” and “The Conjuring” makes an auspicious directorial debut with “Annabelle.” He learned very well from his his previous director James Wan, who sits as producer of this film. You can see he has the eye for the perfect views for the most effective suspense and surprise.
I liked the cinematography that employs camera angles that give you the point of view of the tormented victim so that you too do not know what will happen next. The suspense could be so intense so many times, with the excellent editing and splicing of scenes together accompanied by a swelling crescendo of music. The timing for the big jump scare was effectively surprising most of the time, even you were sort of predicting it to happen already.
This is a film which may divide audiences as to whether it could match the successes of “Insidious” or “The Conjuring.” As it is, I liked “Annabelle” more than I thought I would. I was expecting the worst, since I hated how the Annabelle doll looked and I can’t imagine anyone wanting one like it in their house. However, the film managed to transcend that limitation and actually create genuine scares that worked.