Hastily produced, sporadically scary spinoff of The Conjuring focussing on the film's devil doll
James Wan's name is synonymous with modern horror. He’s the man who directed Saw, Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2 and here he acts as producer on this spinoff of his other smash, 2013's The Conjuring, passing directorial duties to his cinematographer John R Leonetti.
A violent, bloody prelude provides a frantic and grisly introduction to happily married couple Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton), who are expecting their first child. When a couple of cult members invade their home it results in the soul of perpetrator Annabelle Higgins entering a creepy doll that John has given to his wife to mark the imminent arrival of their baby.
Set in the late Sixties amid the terror of the Manson Family murders, cults and Catholicism are very much at the film's forefront. Screenwriter Gary Dauberman plays with doctrines, inducing paranoia in Mia who acts as a conduit for an investigation into post-traumatic stress. However, his insistence on directly referencing a multitude of horror films, particularly Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, is questionable. Given that Polanski's pregnant wife (the actress Sharon Tate) was one of the Manson gang's victims, is this a heartfelt exploration of pain, or the exploitation of an ordeal?
Annabelle appears to have been knocked up extremely quickly considering the doll in question only planted her maniacal, fixed grin into our nightmares just over a year ago, as she stared out from a locked cabinet in the home of The Conjuring's paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren.
Tellingly, Leonetti's previous directorial efforts are two other cash-in style follow-ups: The Butterfly Effect 2 and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Here he recycles jump scares from Wan's vault of work, resulting in a dampening sense of familiarity. Meanwhile, his heavy reliance on Annabelle’s supposedly terrifying presence is at times rendered giggle-inducing, thanks to repetitive zooms honing in on her cold, lifeless eyes.
Still, he delivers a neatly packaged prequel which is better than it deserves to be thanks to a convincing performance from the aptly named Annabelle Wallis, and a couple of genuinely frightening set-pieces.
General release from Fri 10 Oct.