DIRECTOR: David F. Sandberg LEAD CAST: Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Samara Lee SCREENWRITER: Gary Dauberman PRODUCERS: Peter Safran, James Wan EDITOR: Michel Aller MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Benjamin Wallfisch GENRE: Horror CINEMATOGRAPHER: Maxime Alexandre DISTRIBUTOR: New Line Cinema LOCATION: California, USA RUNNING TIME: 1 hour 50 minutes
Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 2
CINEMA rating: V14
Dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and wife Esther (Miranda Otto) live a happy life with their daughter Bee (Samara Lee) in a picturesque country home. Their life crumbles when Bee dies in a road accident. In grief, the couple invokes the spirits to get glimpses of Bee, unintentionally conjuring evil forces to infest Annabelle, the doll Samuel was making at the time of Bee’s death. A priest locks Annabelle in a chamber, only to be unbound 12 years later by curious Janice (Talitha Bateman), one of the orphaned girls under the care of Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) who are welcomed by the Mullins to their home. Janice becomes possessed and her friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) tries to free her by throwing Annabelle in a well, but evil has been unleashed and Janice sets out to wreak horror and blood in the household.
Hands-down to the film’s meticulous production design. The old Victorian country house, costume, makeup and music, with the 1940s song You are My Sunshine that unfortunately becomes associated with horror, all make for an eerie setting. There is gore alright, but what makes the film petrifying is the effective use of slow panning of the camera to extreme close-ups, lighting, haunting imagery with ascending music and sounds, and the characters’ penchant for whispers. Even with numerous allusions to the 2014 film Annabelle, this prequel which is the fourth in the Conjuring franchise is easily comprehensible for first-time viewers. The film’s letdown is in the story, dialogue and characterization. One would think that a child’s inquisitiveness can be quashed by grotesque dolls and creepy movements in the dark. But the orphans are unperturbed and they wander about. Samuel is shallow in his grief, and Esther’s character is wasted the whole time behind the canopy of her bed.
The film unpeels a most vulnerable emotion—grief—made more painful because it involves the loss of a child. The devil seizes the opportunity and the parents realize all too late that instead of holding on to God who is faithful to tide over His children in their sorrow, they have bargained with the devil. The film’s message is clear: do not cavort nor collude with any spirit, because that is an open invitation to the devil. There are subthemes of good throughout the film: deep faith, honesty, friendship, and charity. Nonetheless, the film is disturbing. For all its cinematic value, juxtaposing innocent children with evil is still unnerving. The devil is real, and the film leaves no doubt about it. Why Annabelle/Janice kills only two people when she could have killed all is not the question. What is appalling is that she kills only the parents, and in such gruesome way. Even with the priest saying towards the end that the doll is now empty of any evil force, succeeding scenes show otherwise: Janice escapes, is adopted and later slaughters her adoptive parents (plot of the 2014 Annabelle) and the demon nun appears in a convent in Romania (plot of The Nun, the next film in the Conjuring series).