Reviewed by John Hussey.
(This review contains full spoilers)
I’m a bit sceptical when it comes to modern day horror films due to the fact that they all bear the same traits and above all share practically the same storyline. Demons or the supernatural as a whole have been the calling of most horror stories throughout this century and left me feeling pushed away from Horror. I basically give it a massive wide-birth due to its unoriginality and repetition. It’s fair to say I’m more of a fan of Slasher-Horror than supernatural, with Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream being personal favourites of mine. But upon seeing Insidious for the first time last year I was enlightened to see that horror wasn’t fully dead and there was a type that could really cause me to feel dread and terror.
Having seen Insidious my girlfriend pointed me further into this new world of horror and directed me to The Conjuring, something she said was creepy like Insidious. Unfortunately I was met with disappointment because it bared too much unoriginality and too much relation with modern horror that it almost bored me. I will admit though it was good but lacked a wow factor that I was led to believe. The most disappointing part was the scare factor which didn’t get to me. Insidious on the other hand still scares me and that’s what I wanted. Fast forward a little while longer and we are met with a spin-off prequel movie entitled Annabelle, featuring the doll from The Conjuring. I was a bit sceptical about this film, right up until I went to watch it, due to my disappointment of The Conjuring but by heck was I in for a massive shock.
Annabelle without a doubt scared me. And that’s what I wanted, I wanted to be shook up and left feeling tense as to what would happen next. There were moments where me and my girlfriend were on edge as to what would happen, because as life-long horror fans we know when a jump-scare will occur and you wait in anticipation. One of the bits that got us feeling dread was when Mia was using a sewing machine and we just knew it wasn’t long before she stabbed herself. The whole film had an element of creepiness and tension because everything leads you to feeling safe, the couple were kind, they had a good life and they lived in what appeared to be safe areas full of people. There’s no isolation involved and then it threw you curve-balls into the deep end as the demonic presence grew more intense and fierce.
Fundamentally the film revolves around a normal everyday couple, Mia and John, and the doll known as Annabelle. Now for all purposes I will inform you all that the doll itself doesn’t do much. I know this seems strange as the film makes you believe the doll itself would be active and do a lot of the haunting activities. But no it doesn’t. It’s made clear that the doll can move, the first sign of this when the rocking chair it’s resting on rocks on its own accord. This didn’t bother me at all because as the story explained the doll wasn’t the instigator of the problems. The doll was merely the beacon.
Devil worshiping is a dark thing that everyone is aware of and the horrible thing is it does go on, people do disappear and are never seen again due to sacrifices for the occult. The hauntings start because of this sick and twisted idea through the shocking, and quite frankly nerve-racking and jumpy scene that depicts Mia and John’s neighbours brutally killed by their own daughter and her boyfriend. The creepy part about the scenes is the direction, my god was it effective. The whole time you was watching the film looking out for signs of activity based on the camera shots, for example a wide shot were half the camera focuses on the character whilst the rest focuses on background to which something occurs without the character’s knowledge. This happened in this scene to showcase a slow and brutal build-up to horrible events. There was a shot looking out the window as Mia and John sleep only to be interrupted by their neighbours waking up to a disturbance. It goes quiet and then bam, blood splatters on the wall and an insane man changes at the defenceless wife. Mia is later alone in the house, whilst John investigated next door, and in the background you see a woman walk freely around the house.
Moments like this made you tense throughout the film as it made you feel vulnerable, like the characters should be feeling but aren’t because they were unaware half the time as to what was around them. This was of course until a crucial point where the entity allowed them to know, usually through a massive jump-scare. Luckily the cops arrived in time to stop the killers and the woman was found dead after committing suicide whilst holding the Annabelle doll. Whilst nobody is watching, the woman’s blood drips into the dolls eye. It leads you to believe that the spirit of the woman somehow entered the doll and for the rest of the film demonically haunted Mia as a form of revenge. Throughout the film the woman was seen in the background or confronting Mia in a frightening way. As the story goes on you begin to wonder if this is the case and that something worse could be following Mia.
One scene in particular confirms the truth and it was a terrifying scene that filled me with chills. It had the Insidious factor. Mia was on her own in the storage section of the apartment building when suddenly a baby’s cry could be heard. You at first worry that it’s Mia’s child and are left in suspense as Mia walked up to this mysterious pram within the darkened and isolated environment. The pram is revealed to be empty, leaving you a moment of reprieve. Then you were thrown with a surprise jump-scare as a black hand grabbed Mia. Mia jumped back and then you saw it, the demon. A black creature filled with evil. Everytime that thing appeared onscreen I was terrified, so luckily it wasn’t much but those few scenes were enough to leave me trembling. Mia made a run for the lift and kept pressing her floor over and over again, which happened to be the number 6, but kept finding herself back on the same floor. As my girlfriend cleverly pointed out she was pressing the symbol of the beast over and over again, perhaps like the creature wanted. Mia eventually made a run for it and was met with a surreal chase that kept allowing her to see the creature appear and disappear from her sights. Eventually she was shocked to see it had climbed the stairs and simply stared back at her before leaping for her once more. The suspension was created through brilliant directing along with clever lighting – the darkness itself giving the scene an edge, along with the creature’s design and colour which allowed it to blend in and create a creepier vibe.
There were moments throughout the film that were built with tension and scares in mind, leaving your mind on edge. One moment in particular was a scene that showed Mia picking up what seemed like innocent children’s drawings. A couple of scenes prior to that Mia was talking to some children who were drawing pictures which made you automatically put the pieces together. But as Mia collected more of these pictures, mysteriously placed for her to pick up, we see a demonic unravelling. The pictures show Mia’s child killed by a truck which in itself is sick but made worse by the fact it serves as a premonition to what would eventually happen. Luckily the child doesn’t get killed but the pram does get hit by a truck after Mia stops dead in her track from seeing the woman holding her child in a reflection. After the pram is crushed Mia was shown holding the baby like the woman was in the reflection showcasing the terrible might of the thing stalking Mia. This thing wanted to make a point and showcase its power over her and that its desires would be met by whatever means.
The factors that made this film so horrifying was the innocent nature of the baby. You naturally don’t want an innocent life, who is so young and defenceless, getting hurt. But when you see these horrible events unravel you begin to become fearful over the characters, especially Mia who has so much to lose. A scene showcased the baby’s danger when the woman walked freely from one room into another and tried to grab it whilst Mia was asleep. It’s a terrifying thing to watch, knowing that this dark creature could potentially harm this child, through no other reason but to see the delight of pain. Another occasion is were poor Mia is stabbed whilst she is still pregnant, making you pained inside over whether the baby will live or die before its even born. I think when a child is in danger, then the situation is made even more dangerous.
The other reason that made me tremble so much over this film was the knowledge it was based off of real events. I know The Conjuring also claimed this but it just didn’t grab me as much. The idea of a demon coming into your home to cause nothing but pain and knowingly know that it has the power to do this by whatever means, that’s when it becomes true terror. Demons are real and the events of the film made me hope that this never happens to me. Sometimes films based off real events can prove to be the more challenging within how we perceive it because it’s that knowledge of knowing that to some degree the images we are seeing are fact and actually did happen. You feel sorry for the people the films based off because they really had to go through this and you wonder what must have been going through their minds. This is something that has baffled me about people’s views over the film as if it was made purely from poor imagination, bad writing etc when it was based on real facts. That’s the point of the film. Like The Conjuring, it’s telling the tale and real events that affected real people in horrible ways. The Annabelle doll from The Conjuring is a real doll and this is her origins story told into film.
I suppose the sad part about the film was it didn’t include Ed and Lorraine Warren. Now I’ve only recently learnt about them through The Conjuring and have become interested in what they did throughout their many investigations, so I’m looking forward to seeing what adventures of theirs gets translated into film. For those of you, like me, who was expecting this to be how Ed and Lorraine caught Annabelle, thereby showing us their first case, you might be disappointed to learn this isn’t the case. They don’t feature at all in the film. The two of them are briefly mentioned by a vicar but that’s it I’m afraid. Annabelle shows the story of how the doll came about but the ending does leave it open to a second Annabelle film in which Ed and Lorraine do feature and we get to see their first adventure told onscreen. That’s my hopes anyway. The other sad part was that the Annabelle doll itself was ridiculously over-exaggerated through appearance in order to make it more demonic. The real doll is more cuddly and innocent looking which I think makes the film’s interpretation lose that extra threat because they make the doll look evil. In the real events the doll would’ve come across as safe and then when that was contrasted with the demonic activities that’s when things must have been more frightening. Simply looking at a picture of the real doll you get a sense of fear because of its appearance alone and little details like that for the sake of cinematic effects can make all the difference.
But take my word for it, Annabelle is a film filled with tension, plenty of scares and a real sense of danger throughout. You have these nice scenes where you fall in love with the characters because of their charm and happiness, and the next minute you are shown their lives being torn apart by a creature beyond this Earth. Truly terrifying, and worth a watch I think. Even if you don’t enjoy it and don’t think it’s the best horror film out there you can’t deny its ambition in telling a story that must have been a horrifying experience for everyone involved.
I’ll leave you with this fun fact, the Annabelle doll still exists and is still in the custody of Lorraine Warren and the demon is still inside it. Apparently the creature growls at anyone that goes near it and actually caused the death of a teenager after he tried to provoke the doll during a tour of the Warren residence. The doll is blessed every two weeks in order to keep the creature at bay.