'Annabelle' a too-rushed prequel to 'Conjuring'.

AuthorHartlaub, Peter
PositionLiving - Movie review

Byline: Peter Hartlaub



A New Line Cinema film

Rating: R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

It's 1969, and Mia Gordon seems to have it all.

A doctor husband with a baby on the way. Perfect "Mad Men''/Betty Draper hair. A kind priest who looks just like F. Murray Abraham. This would be early Nixon-era conservative domestic bliss, if it wasn't for that demonically possessed doll collection.

"Annabelle,'' a prequel/spinoff to the superb 2013 throwback horror film "The Conjuring,'' is filled with good and bad. The production schedule was rushed, and it shows. The script highlights an annoying lack of self-preservation on behalf of the protagonists. But the movie tries to be more than just a creepy doll freakout, and delivers the requisite scares.

"The Conjuring,'' directed by "Saw'' co-creator James Wan, was a classic. Set in a 1970s farmhouse using expert pacing and mostly practical effects, it stood out as one of the better horror films -- mainstream or underground -- in recent memory.

"Annabelle,'' directed by Wan's longtime cinematographer John R. Leonetti, has some of the same DNA. The production design and filmmaking style seamlessly match the era. The outstanding camera work reveals itself early, during a well-staged slaughter scene in a neighbor's suburban house; viewed through two sets of windows with an expert's mastery of light and action. (The score by Joseph Bishara also shows early Hitchcock influences.)

But the best decision is the use of the Gordons -- Mia, John and baby Leah -- as the main victims. "Annabelle'' runs from obvious hippie stereotypes, instead presenting the era through a more interesting Republican lens. The Gordons' fears involve Charles Manson and Satanic cults. And it turns out the Satanists were at least partly right about the existence of The Beast.

The most noticeable shortcoming is a hastily executed script, which results in a few too many unintentional audience laughs.

"The Conjuring'' made more than $300 million on a reported $20 million budget; no doubt the pressure to churn out another movie 15 months later compromised some of the artistic potential.

"The Conjuring''...

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