Annabelle underachieves, lacks spirit

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Coming on the heels of the extremely popular horror title, The Conjuring, Annabelle features a healthy serving of jump-scares adequate for a midnight horror craving but falls short of its predecessor in terms of quality.

After the massive success of a movie such like The Conjuring, a spin-off was more a matter of when, not if. Annabelle is related only to the original by the doll that appears in the first ten minutes of the film.

The story begins with a pregnant couple. John (Ward Horton) finds a perfect gift for his pregnant wife, Mia (Annabelle Wallis) – a rare doll in a white wedding dress. Shortly after this, their home is broken into by members of a satanic cult, resulting in supernatural occurrences that plague the new family.

As is becoming the standard in the horror genre, a relatively unknown director leads an equally unknown cast in an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a more skillfully created film.

New director John Leonetti’s (director of photography for The Conjuring and Insidious) inexperience as a director shows throughout the film.

Leonnetti knows how to make the audience jump, but payoff is short lived  as the audience is not in suspense because they cannot find a reason to care what happens to the protagonists.

In this case, Leonetti attempts to build on the work of James Wan, the creative mind behind Insidious and Saw along with The Conjuring. James Wan has become known for his innovative yet minimalistic effect-driven films.

Consequently, the film does not go overboard with the effects, presumably to keep the budget down. There was, however, no innovation involved in the making of this movie.

Annabelle seems content with using formulaic horror elements and providing a few jump-scares with little to no tension in between.

The only real attempt at developing atmosphere is from creaking doors, music and dark lighting, all of which are already used far too often in horror today.

Also, as with most horror today, the character development is lacking. Horror is one of the few genres where this is excusable if the audience can be substantially scared into forgetting why they are supposed to care about the characters.

Unfortunately, since Annabelle fails to deliver on the scares, the lack of character development is doubly apparent and frustrating. The audience is never really given a reason to care for the characters that are being terrorized.

Despite the lack of character development, the actors do all that they can with the script given to them.

Wallis plays a convincing frightened new mother and Horton complements her role with his portrayal of a concerned yet sometimes slightly awkward husband. If not for the effort from these actors, the film could have descended lower than mediocrity.

Annabelle is by no means the worst horror movie that has come out in recent history.It simply lacks the originality and commitment to creating an atmosphere that made its predecessor so special. While this film does not consistently deliver the scares, there are a few that should have an effect on the audience.

Perhaps with time, Leonetti will develop as a director and compliment his minimalist style with legitimately innovative scare-tactics.

Annabelle is a fine movie to watch if the goal is only to jump to loud noises with a group of friends, but it is not the film to turn to for any lasting fear.