Tag Archives: Annabelle

A review of “The Conjuring” (2013)

I feel the same way about “The Conjuring” (2013) as I did about its prequel, “Annabelle” (2014) — it has all the earmarks of a bad movie, but it inexplicably succeeds anyway.

Seriously — this film has clunky exposition, cheesy dialogue and over-the-top plot developments (toward the end), not to mention a plot setup that’s in questionable taste.  (The movie suggests that the innocents condemned by the infamous 1692 Salem witch trials were indeed witches.  This feels a bit awkward to anyone who read Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” in high school.)  “The Conjuring” also plays out like a love letter to Ed and Lorraine Warren, the controversial paranormal investigators who are largely the subject of the film (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga).  This last offense is forgivable, I suppose — the film was made with the Warrens’ blessing, and Lorraine Warren was even present as a “consultant” during its production.

Strangely, however, these flaws were barely noticeable to me when I watched it.  I had a good time.  “The Conjuring” just happens to be a decent fright flick that delivers on the scares.

I think James Wan’s skilled directing has a lot to do with that; the film works visually.  (I could name specific instances where it works especially well, but I want to avoid spoilers.)

The acting helped a lot too — Wilson and Farmiga are both damned good, as is Lili Taylor as the afflicted family’s mother.  (I’ve admired Taylor’s acting since her long ago 1998 guest appearance on “The X-Files,” and she was equally good as a bad guy in 1996’s “Ransom.”)  Ron Livingston was also quite good in the role of the father — if you have trouble placing his face, as I did, he also played Captain Nixon in HBO’s “Band of Brothers” (2001).  He seems to have a talent for playing the likable everyman — he’s great here as the somewhat feckless father, and functions well as a kind of viewer surrogate.  I should also mention the young Joey King as one of the family’s daughters — she played the role of a terrified child to perfection, and really raised the stakes emotionally.

Despite really enjoying most of the movie, some of my enthusiasm for “The Conjuring” flagged a bit toward the end.  The denouement here includes an exorcism, and those are almost always boring.  There are only so many ways that scenario can play out, and we’ve seen them all — and I shouldn’t even need to name that certain 1973 film that did it best.  Furthermore, we see our story’s demon do some pretty extraordinary things, even by demon standards.  It can apparently transport itself great distances (using an inanimate object as a kind of fax machine?), and can manipulate both the laws of physics and the area’s wildlife.  It was all a little too much for my willing suspension of disbelief.

Again, though — this was a good movie.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a good scare.

 

“Annabel Lee,” by Edgar Allan Poe

Halloween season is almost upon us.  (I’m the kind of purist who thinks it begins on October 1.  My neighbors have shown surprising restraint; I’ve only seen one decorated house.)  And Halloween is the season for Edgar Allan Poe.

I’m running “Annabel Lee” today, however, because I was chatting with a Mary Washington College Alumna the other day who named her daughter “Annabelle.”  The conversation came up after my review of last year’s surprisingly good horror movie of the same name.  (My New Hall friend arrived at “Annabelle” after researching the name, but not after this poem.  That would be weird.)

“Annabel Lee,” by Edgar Allan Poe

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

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Photo credit: By Edgar Allan Poe, “Annabel Lee”, 1849 fair copy. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Annabelle” (2014) scared the $#@& out of me!!

“Annabelle” seems like precisely the sort of horror film that shouldn’t work.  Thinly drawn characters wind their way through a series of overly familiar tropes, including, of course, the titular possessed doll.  These characters make the same baffling decisions that only people in horror movies are stupid enough to make, and cavalierly remain in dangerous situations long after you and I would have gotten the hell out of there.  The film is so reminiscent of “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) that for a while I actually wondered if it was a remake.  And the script is pretty clunky — especially the coda at the church.

Yet … “Annabelle” still works.  This is a frikkin’ scary movie.  I’d give it a 9 out of 10.

There are a couple of reasons for the movie’s success, I think.  First, it’s beautifully shot and directed throughout an especially creepy apartment building. Our supernatural antagonists are (at first) wisely seen down long corridors and stairwells.  There are some static shots of the doll but none of the silly cut-and-cut-back tricks to explain that it is moving on its own.

Second, there is no ham-handed CGI to make the action cartoonish; there are only sparsely placed practical effects, and they work quite well.  This felt like an effective old-fashioned 1970’s horror movie about the devil.

Third, Annabelle Wallis does well in her role as the wife in the young married couple targeted by Satan. She underplays it quite a bit, but she’s still a good actress.  (The beautiful Wallis is none other than the college student that young Charles Xavier tried to pick up in 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.”  And, yes, she does have the same first name as the demonic doll.  Weird world.)

I was confused at first about the awkward and confusing bookends to the film; they’re distracting and unnecessary.  Wikipedia informs me that these are intended to remind viewers that this movie is a spinoff of “The Conjuring” (2013), which is regarded by horror fans as superior to this film.  I guess I’ll need to watch that soon.

 

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