By Andrew Crean
October is finally here, and we all know what that means: time to break out the horror films.
Everyone loves a good scary movie, but in recent years, horror films have become notorious for falling below expectations. Many of the genre’s releases attempt to get a reaction with cheap jump scares and gory violence. A movie needs a riveting story and good acting, but with scary movies, there is also a need for suspense and fear to grip the audience from beginning to end.
Very few contemporary horror movies have been able to complete this juggling act. Last year’s “The Conjuring” was one of those films that fell far short. However, its recently released prequel, “Annabelle,” finds a good balance and starts the month of scares with a bang.
“Annabelle” follows the story of a young couple living in a quaint little neighborhood. With a baby on the way, the husband buys his wife a rare collectible doll to add to her collection in the nursery room. The wife opens the box and is greeted by a creepy little face with the most devilish smile, but she loves it and places it on a shelf above the crib.
Although the doll isn’t possessed from the get-go, it gives off plenty of bad vibes. The couple have their perfect lives interrupted when two crazed members of a satanic cult break into their home and attempt to kill them. This disturbing scene sets an unnerving mood that continues the rest of the movie.
Director John Leonetti does an amazing job of creating new scare tactics to keep nerves high. Although there are several jump scares, the movie does not rely on them., Instead, it focuses on maintaining a feeling of unsettlement.
The tune from the baby’s mobile plays in many scenes with an ending shot of the doll to remind the audience who is behind all the madness.
Leonetti is better known as a cinematographer than a director, but this only improves the movie. A few clichés found their way into the film such as unnecessary loud sounds to startle viewers. These mistakes as a director are overshadowed, however, by his cinematic expertise. The shot selection adds to the tense atmosphere. Wide shots give a visual beyond the main focus of the scene, and allow the audience to see events the characters do not.
In a particularly creepy scene, one character goes to turn off a record player in the living room and then exits into the hallway. The shot continues to follow the character down the hall, but the room remains visible. A shadowy figure moves across in the mirror above the record player, and then the music resumes again. It was a subtle detail that some viewers may miss, but it is a much more disturbing effect than forcing the audience to witness it by putting all the focus on that detail.
Many times in the movie the director set up scenes and you think you know what is coming next, but you really don’t. However, instead of the “haha, we tricked you” approach that many horror movies have taken lately where the buildup just leads to nothing, “Annabelle” takes that tension and turns it in a refreshing direction that leaves us more satisfied than the expected jump scare.
“Annabelle” reassures us of what most of us already know: dolls are creepy. We’ve seen the possessed doll as antagonist in films such as “Child’s Play,” but unlike Chucky who is more of a slasher monster, the Annabelle doll just sits there menacingly causing disturbing events to happen around it.
While the family survives the attack, one of the attackers locks herself in the nursery and commits suicide before the police arrive. As witnessed in the trailer, the deceased attacker’s blood drips on the doll she holds in her arms with a mysterious satanic marking on the wall above her.
Psychological thrillers tend to be the scariest because you never know what to expect. Is what is happening on-screen really happening, or is it just the characters losing their sanity?
Horror film fanatics will find “Annabelle” to be quite entertaining. 2014 has lacked in the scary movie department thus far, but October has arrived and brings hope that the year won’t be a total disappointment. “Annabelle” is the movie its predecessor should have been. “The Conjuring” gave us a quick tease that there was a sinister story behind the demon doll, but then went off on its own subpar plot.
“Annabelle” surpasses the dull plots of its peers and aptly satisfies horror cravings that many have waited over a year to satiate.
Andrew Crean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.