The Conjuring’s prequel stars a demon-possessed doll
Annabelle is a prequel to last year’s The Conjuring, the horror movie directed by James Wan that became a moderate hit. The Conjuring took full advantage of its period setting, an unsettling film based on the exploits of real-life paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren. Wan was busy directing the latest Fast & Furious installment to direct Annabelle. His cinematographer of choice in recent years was chosen as a replacement, John R. Leonetti. A director whose biggest previous movie was Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Leonetti delivers a surprisingly creepy horror movie aimed at adults. The veteran cinematographer is no stranger to the horror genre, having worked on both Insidious movies and Dead Silence.
Made with a modest budget under seven million dollars, a paltry sum for Hollywood these days, Annabelle became a huge box-office hit. Grossing over $255 million worldwide, The Conjuring’s loosely connected prequel took everyone by surprise. Starring relative unknowns Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton, its real star is the creepy Annabelle doll. First seen in the Warrens’ collection of demonic and cursed objects in last year’s The Conjuring, the antique doll looks creepier than ever as we learn its cursed origins in Annabelle.
The Annabelle doll seen in the movie does not resemble the real Annabelle doll, a regular Raggedy Ann doll popular in the 1950s. The events in Annabelle are a fictionalized account loosely based on a real doll believed by the Warrens to be possessed by a demonic spirit. Ed and Lorraine Warren are probably two of the most famous Western paranormal researchers in the Twentieth Century. They were ghost hunters before anyone knew what the term meant, investigating disturbances all over the world.
Possessed dolls are not a new concept for horror, the Chucky series of films took the idea and ran with it. Puppet Master also had its fans, spawning a number of sequels. Annabelle treats the concept with far more respect than Chucky, which became a black comedy at times with its humor. This is a horror movie aimed at adults. Reviewers have not been kind to Annabelle, likely because it takes the subject so seriously.
Annabelle is a film about a demonically possessed doll ruining a young couple’s lives in 1969. Grounded in that time period, the film is content with telling its horrifying tale without seriously questioning the idea of demonic possession as a matter of faith. If you cannot accept that without irony, there probably isn’t much reason for a person to watch Annabelle. Modern skeptics tend to have a hard time accepting that treatment. Horror fans will like it a great deal, while others may grow bored with the sluggishly paced first half.
The story is fairly simple. A young, happy couple’s life in 1960’s California changes forever when the husband gives his pregnant wife a vintage antique doll. John (Ward Horton) is a husband that believes in his faith and loves his wife. Mia (Annabelle Wallis) is pregnant with their first child when something terrible happens soon after acquiring the doll. A satanic cult loosely based off the Manson Family kills their neighbors and then attacks the couple in their home. John and Mia survive but the cult members are killed by the police in their home, leading to the doll becoming demonically possessed by one of their spirits.
This is honestly one of the scariest demons seen on film.
This is honestly one of the scariest demons seen on film.
The crux of Annabelle revolves around Mia, as she stays at home while John begins his career as a doctor. British actress Annabelle Wallis gives an impressive turn as the frightened mother. The film could not have worked without her believable performance. She plays the part of a Nixon-era housewife with surprising conviction, completely losing her British accent. Mia eventually turns to the police and a local bookstore owner (Alfre Woodard) for answers. When that does not stop the worsening problems posed by the doll, the young couple ask a local priest for help, Father Perez (Tony Amendola).
Annabelle is a little slow to develop after John and Mia are attacked in their homes. The film is content to rely on the building dread and minor scares to build tension. Everything becomes significantly creepier and more intense when the demon behind Annabelle’s possession is finally revealed. This is honestly one of the scariest demons seen on film. Greg Nicotero of The Walking Dead fame had a hand in designing this demon, and it should certainly win awards in the horror community.
Annabelle is not a perfect film but it is easy to see why it became such a big hit. Led by an incredibly menacing doll, it is a slick Hollywood horror film with a solid script. Treating demonic possession honestly without a sense of parody or irony, Annabelle is intended for adults looking to be scared once again. In some ways Annabelle is a better movie than The Conjuring, despite the bigger names involved with the latter. This is a good horror movie and its box-office success proves audiences found it worth their time.
Warner Bros. provides a superb 1080P presentation for Annabelle with this Blu-ray. Director John R. Leonetti has been working for years as a Hollywood cinematographer and it shows on this film. A number of tricky shots are employed, including a very effective continuous shot for the cult murder scene. Filmed with a variety of the latest high-tech digital film cameras, including the RED Epic and ARRI Alexa XT, the horror film has startlingly pristine video. Framed in an eye-pleasing 2.39:1 aspect ratio, horror movies usually do not look this great.
The 98-minute primary feature is afforded a BD-50, allowing a strong AVC video encode that transparently replicates the movie’s digital intermediate. The video encode averages 25.41 Mbps, easily handling every scene without introducing compression artifacts or reducing clarity. The razor-sharp picture exudes definition, the focus is impeccable. Unlike other period films, the color-timing is careful to avoid egregiously skewing overall tonality. The fairly rich color palette has a strong contrast, rendering solid black levels. Shadow delineation is strong as well, reveling in inky black levels when necessary. Some of the film’s best moments are when the demon pops up from the shadows.
The excellent picture quality is only hampered by a slight loss in high-frequency detail, most noticeable in tight close-ups. Facial detail is dense while vaguely leaving the impression of slight filtering, especially in a couple of clear shots with Alfre Woodard. A couple of other scenes, shot with lesser cameras than state-of-the-art monsters like the RED Epic, appear somewhat softer as well. While some VFX were used in Annabelle, there seems to be less of it than is usual these days. Much of the FX appear to be practical in nature, lessening the need for digital fixes in post. When VFX shots are used in Annabelle, a tiny bit of aliasing and ringing might get noticed in the otherwise stellar video.
The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is a real winner, an essential component of Annabelle’s scares. The Conjuring had a fantastic surround mix, one of the most powerful I heard last year. Annabelle is a step behind that audio demo, possibly more limited in its deep bass and ultimate impact. The atmospheric surround mix in Annabelle has several interesting moments, including one wonderful scene involving the playing of an LP when Mia finds the record player being tampered with by the doll. Everything is presented in perfect fidelity. Annabelle’s crystal-clear audio gets delivered in an intricate sound-field layered with frightening cues. It’s a lush, dense surround track that works very effectively for this kind of horror movie.
French, Spanish and Portuguese dubs are included in lossy Dolby Digital at 640 kbps. The following optional subtitles display in a white font, outside the scope frame: English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Warner’s combo pack includes Annabelle on Blu-ray and DVD. A Hi-Def UltraViolet digital copy is included which redeems in HDX on VUDU or Flixster. I wouldn’t call this the deepest set of special features but the surprise hit does get some interesting featurettes with participation from the entire cast and crew. Producer James Wan is featured pretty heavily in the featurettes. First pressings include a regular slipcover, though it lacks any distinguishing features like embossing.
While none of the featurettes are particularly extensive, they provide a concise look behind the scenes. The cast and crew are fairly relaxed as they answer the topic at hand, including a very open director about his work process.
The Curse of Annabelle (05:31 in HD) – A featurette briefly covering Ed and Lorraine Warren’s history with the real doll and the creepier things which happened during filming. Several cast members comment on the general creepiness of the Annabelle doll. They seem fairly genuine in their comments but it’s hard to tell if it is a put-on for the cameras. Producer James Wan was always fascinated by the actual Annabelle case.
Bloody Tears of Possession (05:32 in HD) – This is a comprehensive, behind-the-scenes breakdown of the cult murder scene by the director and crew. It was a tough technical shot since it was one continuous take, flashy for a movie with a limited budget.
Dolls of the Demon (04:04 in HD) – More information about the Annabelle doll made for the film and reactions from the cast.
A Demonic Process (04:59 in HD) – A look at the prosthetic make-up necessary for achieving the demon’s final appearance. Well worth watching for horror fans that love monster make-up.
Deleted Scenes (20:35 in HD) – These eight scenes are all finished, meaning they made it pretty far before getting axed from the final cut. A couple of them involve a landlord character that apparently got cut completely out of the movie. There is one very effective scene involving a herd of cats swarming in a room, it’s the only deleted scene which I think would have been nice to have in the final cut.
New Line Cinema trailers for Inherent Vice (02:14 in HD) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (02:00 in HD) precede the main menu.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.