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Annabelle: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Annabelle (2014) movie poster Annabelle

Theatrical Release: October 3, 2014 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: John R. Leonetti / Writer: Gary Dauberman

Cast: Annabelle Wallis (Mia Form), Ward Horton (John Form), Tony Amendola (Father Perez), Alfre Woodard (Evelyn), Kerry O'Malley (Sharon Higgins), Brian Howe (Pete Higgins), Eric Ladin (Detective Clarkin)

Buy Annabelle from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

When horror movies succeed, they typically offer some of the best returns on investment in the business. While other genres like sci-fi and action-adventure produce more high grosses,
they also usually cost a lot more to make. Animation and visual effects are expensive. So are movie stars sought to headline comedies and dramas. Meanwhile, a horror film can be downright frugal and yet hit upon something scary and reap the rewards. The Ring made its $48 million budget back five times with a $249 M global haul. Insidious grossed nearly $100 M worldwide on a $1.5 M budget. Paranormal Activity earned almost $200 million with just $15,000 in production costs.

In 2013, The Conjuring added to this tradition of horror profitability. The $20 M movie drew over $300 M worldwide in ticket sales while also generating terrific reviews and unusually good worth of mouth. Not wanting to let that success go to waste waiting for director James Wan and screenwriters the Hayes brothers to make the sequel that's due out summer 2016, Warner Bros. Pictures gave a quick greenlit to a Conjuring prequel.

Though the connection was emphasized in marketing, Annabelle carries just a single concept over from the 2013 hit, that of a doll being used as a conduit for evil. This film has no characters or key creators in common with its acclaimed predecessor. Director Wan takes a producer credit as he will on this year's Insidious: Chapter 3. Conjuring cinematographer John R. Leonetti gets promoted to director, earning his third theatrical credit in that role. Lone scribe Gary Dauberman gets called up from the obscurity of horror's minor leagues to make his theatrical screenwriting debut.

Annabelle, that creepy doll being used as a demon's conduit, enters and upsets the lives of an expectant California couple in 2014's "Annabelle."

Taking place a couple of years before The Conjuring's 1971, Annabelle opens with some recycled prologue footage before settling on its main focus: a young married couple from Santa Monica, California. Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John Form (Ward Horton) are attractive, well-bred, and expecting their first child. They're church-going Catholics, but the kind who thumb wrestle during the homily. John, well on his way to becoming a doctor, gives Mia, a doll collector, an early pre-childbirth present: the titular old doll, which completes a set and fulfills Mia's long search for it.

Of course, a happy couple's home is no place for a creepy doll and shortly after acquiring it, the Forms experience some discomforting phenomenon. A sewing machine turns itself on in the middle of a night. The television set's reception goes screwy. There is even a murder next door involving two members of a satanic cult. The doll seems to have a mind of its own, if not nearly as explicitly as Chucky from Child's Play. Whereas that doll was possessed by a serial killer, this one is simply being manipulated by a demon determined to get baby Leah's soul. At least, that is what the Forms' priest (Tony Amendola) tells them when consulted.

A near-brush with death started by an oven popcorn bag fire prompts Mia, John, and their newborn to move to an apartment in Pasadena. The relocation doesn't make their problems go away. Or, for that matter, the Annabelle doll, which mysteriously resurfaces after being discarded. But it does introduce them to Evelyn (Alfre Woodard), a friendly bookstore owner who seems to know a thing or two on the subject.

She may not be the titular Annabelle, but British actress Annabelle Wallis does play the lead in her biggest film role to date. In Pasadena, the Forms make the acquaintance of Evelyn (Alfre Woodard), a neighbor and bookstore owner who is sympathetic to their situation.

Though affiliated with probably the most fulfilling horror movie of the recently-ended half-decade, Annabelle does not have much to show for it. This uninspired affair does not uphold anything that made The Conjuring so enjoyable.
The era remains a fun time to set a horror movie, but as before the period is not flaunted with gaudy fashions or familiar needle drops. If you're not paying close attention, it might not be that hard to mistake this for a contemporary story. While Leonetti passes cinematography duties to James Kniest, who has more experience as a gaffer than anything else, the director's background ensures a stately look that is consistent with Conjuring's. But that might be the most evident link between these barely related projects.

Neither Leonetti nor Dauberman have good, original ideas for this and the film suffers. While Conjuring billed itself as being based on a true story, Annabelle unsurprisingly makes no such claim. It is based on a standard playbook for a generic horror movie. It tries to thrill with slammed doors and other jump scares. The film never scares and doesn't even manage to engage with any regularity. The lead couple (which bears a passing resemblance to Dianna Agron and Eddie Redmayne) is simply not identifiable and the movie doesn't even seem to care about that. Wallis, who you assume was cast for her first name, gets the lion's share of screentime. She can at least act, which is more than you can say about her equally unknown onscreen husband Horton, who renders a thin role even thinner.

Though trashed by critics, Annabelle still fared more than okay at the box office, opening second place in a photo finish with Gone Girl. And though its legs were expectedly limited (after the neck and neck opening, Gone Girl has doubled Annabelle domestically), Annabelle still went on to finish with an admirable $84 M domestic and staggering $255 M worldwide. This tedious un-thriller does very little to justify that kind of business, suggesting that excess goodwill built by The Conjuring drove the public to express their gratitude with an optimistic outing to see this. It remains to be seen how their disappointment with this will factor into The Conjuring 2's reception in summer 2016.

Making its returns look all the more extraordinary is the fact that Annabelle only cost Warner $6.5 million to produce. To achieve identical return on investment, the latest Hunger Games would have to gross $4.9 billion globally (the equivalent of Avatar and Titanic combined, ignoring inflation), Guardians of the Galaxy would require $6.7 billion worldwide, and the final Hobbit would need to accrue $9.8 billion.

Not quite four months after reaching theaters, Annabelle is now available on DVD and in the Blu-ray combo pack reviewed here.

Annabelle: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD-only: Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: January 20, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($28.98 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Annabelle is a relatively inexpensive film but it does a good job of hiding that, especially visually. As clean and sharp as any new film, the competently shot and lit 2.40:1 presentation remains sleek and stylish throughout. In addition, this doesn't sound like a little film; the Blu-ray's 5.1 DTS-HD master audio commands notice with its use of music and jarring sounds (such as the aforementioned door slams). Though the film's design grows tiresome, the sound design impresses as it tries so hard to keep you on edge.

Director John R. Leonetti oozes a youthful cool with his earring, hair, and casual gray hoodie. This actor's arms were naturally blurry until they got covered with demonic make-up.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras slate begins with "The Curse of Annabelle" (5:31), a featurette that allows a wide array of cast and crew members to speak about the film,
the real facts in which it is grounded, and the strange phenomena that marked production.

"Bloody Tears of Possession" (5:32) serves up behind-the-scenes footage mainly from the filming of one early sequence.

"Dolls of the Demon" (4:04) discusses the design and disfiguring of Annabelle and other dolls featured in the film.

"A Demonic Process" (4:59) talks demons and the make-up effects used to portray them (something viewers of the film barely get a glimpse of).

The Forms (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis) get stuck in an elevator with their hippie landlord in this deleted scene. Like most new discs, Annabelle opts for simple menus, which attach score to a poster design.

Finally, we get a long collection of eight deleted scenes (20:35). These introduce the Forms' hippie Pasadena landlord, a room full of cats and other sources of menace and conflict (as if the film needed them).

Unfortunately,
the only one of these bonus features to make the DVD (the same one sold separately) is "The Curse of Annabelle."

The Blu-ray opens with trailers for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and Inherent Vice. The DVD opens with those and then moves on to trailers for This Is Where I Leave You, Jupiter Ascending, The Judge, and Horrible Bosses 2.

Like most new Warner discs, the static menu simply attaches score to a poster design. The Blu-ray lets you resume unfinished playback of the film.

The lone insert inside the plainly slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase supplies a code and directions for redeeming the Digital HD with UltraViolet included with your purchase. Its back advertises the video game Dying Light.

Don't you just hate it when you burn some of the popcorn?!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The many who appreciated The Conjuring may be tempted to see Annabelle, but they would be wise to give this one a pass and hope that the proper Conjuring sequel due in 2016 does a better job of scaring and intriguing as the original film did.

While Warner's combo pack boasts stellar picture and sound plus a fine 40 minutes of extras on Blu-ray, I can't recommend it to anyone who isn't already fond of the movie.

Buy Annabelle from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Horns No Good Deed Rudderless Men, Women & Children Left Behind
The Conjuring Insidious Insidious: Chapter 2 Child's Play Rosemary's Baby Devil's Due
The Apparition Paranormal Activity 2 Mama
Annabelle Wallis: X-Men: First Class | Ward Horton: The Wolf of Wall Street The Mighty Macs
Alfre Woodard: Scrooged A Wrinkle in Time Primal Fear | Tony Amendola: Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season

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Reviewed January 21, 2015.



Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema, Ratpac-Dune Entetrainment, Atomic Monster, Safran Company, and 2015 Warner Home Video.
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