Building cinematic universes, although becoming tiresome, is not going anywhere any time soon. From the Marvel universe, to DC, to Universal’s Dark Universe, studios are attempting to cash-in on brand recognition. The now four-movie deep Conjuring Universe is no different, and with the release of Annabelle: Creation in theaters (and getting decent reviews) it was time to visit the original, and see how they compare. Annabelle, the second movie of the universe, fails to deliver the scares or the craft of its elegant predecessor, The Conjuring.
Part of the problem with Annabelle is it has cool scenes, which are then bogged down by everything prior and following them. This is a problem because two scenes in particular are well crafted, and the rest isn’t; it forces the audience to see the drastic difference and wonder what this film could have been. After the brief initial opening of getting introduced to the characters, the viewer is thrown into a brutal, double home invasion murder sequence. It is this scene, partnered with one other, that are the best parts of the movie. There is a dark, dreary contrast to the lighthearted introduction. The cult murderers are stealthy, even in their white garments, and menacing. And as the blood drips onto Annabelle’s face we think this prequel might have a chance. It does not.
Focus is the biggest flaw for Annabelle. The style is not focused at all. Supposedly a period piece taking place in the late 1960s, there is hardly anything to indicate that. Yes, the cars are from the era, but they are hardly noticeable. The clothing and the set pieces seem like the designers went to Urban Outfitters and grabbed whatever was in. Also, the movie has no visual style either. It was bright and dull and a bit boring to look at. The cinematography was flat, and poses the question: Why didn't the director, John R. Leonetti, who was the Director of Photography on The Conjuring, shoot this film himself?
Another way the movie lacks focus is with the villain. There are three villains in the film. First is Annabelle herself. The movie is titled Annabelle, but the doll is hardly in the movie. Sometimes less is more, and can be effective, but in this case she is used so minimally she never becomes scary, and is often forgotten. The second villain is the woman from the cult. She shows up at the beginning, bleeds into the doll, pops up here and there to walk by a door way, but that is it. Nothing else is known about her, aside from that she killed her parents—leaving her scares mild at best. And third there is the demon. Played by composer Joseph Bishara, the black demon of Annabelle gets lost in the shadows. He is mostly there to manipulate the doll, and possibly to give a small connection to The Conjuring (although the character design looks like it could have been the brother of the Lipstick-Face Demon from Insidious). Possibly the best use of the demon character, and the best scene in the movie, is in the basement.
The only other scene worth mentioning is the elevator scene. Mia, played by Annabelle Wallis, attempts to leave her apartment complex basement by way of elevator. Unfortunately for her, every time the doors open she is back at the basement with the demon lurking in the dark. This scene, which is directed by James Wan, has a cold blue feel not present in the rest of the movie. There is tension built through repetition and the promise of something hiding in the shadows. With every sliding of the elevator doors, the viewer is allowed to be in the moment with Mia, waiting and worrying about what might be on the other side.
Admittedly Annabelle has some moments of fright, at least two, but not even the (seemingly longer) 99 minute run-time could save it from being visually boring and unfocused. A weak start to The Conjuring spin-offs. Hopefully, if The Nun and The Crooked Man are made, they have more life to them than Annabelle and her fellow dolls.
Further Viewing: The Conjuring - James Wan with one of his finest, good scares, and see where Annabelle started.