Annabelle is the spinoff/prequel to last year’s The Conjuring, a throwback to the horror films of the 1970’s and 80’s. The Conjuring, by horror vet James Wan (Insidious, Saw), was a surprise smash hit last spring, and because the titular doll, Annabelle was one of the standout elements of the film, it is no surprise that the studio desired a follow-up. Wan did not return to direct, instead taking a break from the horror genre to direct the tragically troubled new iteration of The Fast and the Furious franchise.
Filling his role in the director’s chair is his resident director of photography, John R. Leonetti, who previously directed the dubious sequels to Mortal Kombat and The Butterfly Effect. It is clear to see that Leonetti’s time spent as Wan’s number two man has rubbed off on him, because Annabelle is certainly a vast improvement over his previous directorial efforts.
That is not to say, however, that Annabelle is a particularly great film. It drags a lot for the first hour, focusing on its two uninteresting leads (Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton). Horton and Wallis resemble two characters lifted out of the background of Mad Men, but drained of all possible edge or interesting character traits. The amount of time the film devotes to sewing, watching soap operas and attending church is simply staggering.
One of the positives the film has going for it, is the cinematography. Certainly Leonetti’s time with Wan shows he has an eye for illustrating macabre imagery onscreen; and this film is certainly no exception in that department. Similar to The Conjuring, and Ti West criminally under-seen The House of the Devil, the photography of the film seems deeply rooted in nostalgia for the horror films of the past. As a result, it is easy to get swept up by just how nice and stylized the film looks at times.
Once the film decides to finally get going, it remains fast paced and thrilling for the duration. There is a lot of chilling imagery, and the film doesn’t waste time dolling out plenty of scares in the last half hour. Unfortunately, the film’s resolution is unsatisfying, and seems too interested in tying off the film as a prequel, rather than finding its own conclusion.