Oh hai audience! I am Amurrican director. I make typical Amurrican horror film about how normal people like you and me use sewing machine and buy dolls, haha. We are all so normal! But sometimes when people espress themselves they hurt each udder, and the doll become the Satan. Anyway, how’s your sex life?
If I didn’t happen to personally know director John Leonetti, I would assume that the above was his mission statement, and his name a pseudonym for Tommy Wiseau. “Leo,” in fact, is a great cinematographer, and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. But when it comes to directing, let’s just say that the best-case scenario for Annabelle is that drag queens embrace it as a midnight show to yell at.
Let’s look at what Annabelle and The Room have in common:
-They both center on a grotesque representation of a human being that is somehow considered appealing and adorable by everyone around it/him/her.
-The art direction of the main characters’ home is total “buy everything in the furniture store window display” chic, and a spurt of water on the glass from a hose just off-camera represents rain.
-The characters behave in a manner that an alien with only the vaguest idea about human behavior might have them behave.
-Characters who repeatedly tell you what their profession is aren’t very good at said profession.
-One of the climactic shots of Annabelle is, I kid you not, staged almost exactly the same way as an analogous scene from The Room.
-The director clearly wants to emulate his idols (James Dean and Tennnessee Williams in The Room, Roman Polanski in Annabelle) without understanding why they do what they do. Annabelle‘s Polanski homages are particularly awful in that they don’t just derive from Rosemary’s Baby, but they also reference and ape the Manson Family murders, simultaneously trying to respect Polanski while essentially shitting on the grave of his wife and unborn child. (Let’s skip the part where we get into whether Polanski deserves sympathy for anything, or we’ll be here all day.)
|Nothing derivative to see here. Move along.
We’ll talk about the plot now, HUH?
Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton), named after the two lead actors in Rosemary’s Baby in case you didn’t notice, are a dorky newlywed couple in 1960s California, awaiting their first child. Mia collects dolls, and one she’s been searching for – and gets – is apparently a super-valuable collectible that looks like Heath Ledger’s nurse-outfit Joker on crack. John, good husband that he is, buys it for her. And that’s fine – the doll isn’t evil until a couple of deranged Satanists break into the house one night and one of them does a Chucky-style ritual on it as she dies.
Even then, though, the doll itself doesn’t do much more than mysteriously rock in the chair. It’s the things attached to it that are a problem: firstly, there’s the spirit of dead Satanist Annabelle, who gets one pretty good scare; secondly, there’s SATAN. Yes, Satan…and by that I mean a guy in a Satan costume with CG fingernails.
|“Yuuuare tearing me APART SATAN!”
You think, and perhaps hope, that I am kidding. I’m not. The devil walks around the apartment complex in this movie, and I think it was Beavis and Butt-head who said, ‘I’ve seen scarier Satans in a Mr. Big video.” Even when Annabelle the doll moves, it’s because Satan is carrying her – it’s like a mentally impaired version of that inspirational poster with the footsteps in the sand.
Leonetti keeps ending scenes by holding focus on the doll’s face as if it’s about to do something scary…but it never does. It doesn’t even blink. Talky Tina would totally kick its ass in a fight. In the true story that Annabelle is extremely loosely based on, the haunted doll was a Raggedy Ann, and that symbol of innocence corrupted seems a lot more interesting than a toy made to look like a lunatic from the getgo being a tool of the devil.
You know your scary movie isn’t working when the audience is laughing before a frame of actual footage has rolled. Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark managed that with its endless paragraphs about the Abkani, and Annabelle does it with text that tells us that dolls have been played with as toys for years. I’m not sure what part of the intended audience isn’t going to know that, but it’s a pretty good signifier of how the filmmakers seemingly rate your intelligence overall.