Credit: Warner Bros.
Annabelle Wallis as Mia in John R. Leonetti's "Annabelle"
Given the unruly number of movies made available for review - The New York Times covers a whopping 25 titles today - and the ever-dwindling number of critics to review them, it's no surprise that some (well, actually a lot) are shunted or simply fall through the cracks.
Exacerbating matters are tight deadlines that often necessitate hastily-written critiques. And, of course, there's the matter of prejudgement of which all critics are guilty but which speeds things along so that one can move on to the next movie and the next review.
Not surprisingly, Warner Bros.' "Annabelle," ostensibly an "evil doll" thriller, is a movie that first-string critics avoided and that second- and third-string reviewers handily dismissed. And why not? Much like animation these days, there's a new thriller or two coming off Hollywood's relentless assembly line seemingly every week. Reduced to a brief synopsis, "Annabelle" is about a young pregnant woman whose husband buys her another antique doll for her collection and all hell breaks loose.
But, frankly, the wicked doll is the least necessary element in the film, as are the images of walking dead that the heroine seems to hallucinate.
Strip them away and, at its deepest core, "Annabelle" plays like a nifty 99-minute reference to "Repulsion." Yes, "Repulsion" - Roman Polanski's "Repulsion." And it's just as artfully done in its intense focus on a young woman who's easily spooked and possibly being driven mad.
And that's the real theme of "Annabelle."
John R. Leonetti, the cinematographer making his directing debut here, examines his heroine's descent in images and gliding camerawork that are eerily dreamy but never nightmarish or even unpleasant.
And his work is abetted and complemented every step of the way by the assured, nuanced and very serene performance of Annabelle Wallis (the British actress from "The Tudors") in the lead role. It's no accident, I suspect, that Wallis captures the placid cool of Catherine Deneuve here.
As if to reward her, Leonetti even named the film after Wallis, a conceit that has escaped everyone who has reviewed it. No, Annabelle is not the name of the grotesque doll. Fact is, the darn doll has no name.
The director also pays homage to another Polanski film - Wallis's character is named Mia, after the star of "Rosemary's Baby" - and to the California Lumière/crazy lady thrillers of Robert Aldrich ("Baby Jane"/"Charlotte") by setting his film first in sun-struck Santa Monica and then Pasadena.
"Annabelle" opened on October 3 in tandem with David Fincher's bravura 149-minute ”Gone Girl” and nearly matched it at the box office, taking in $37,134,255 to "Gone Girl's" $37, 513, 109. I'm not about to overrate "Annabelle." It doesn't match the Fincher film in any other way and is, in fact, its polar opposite - tight and uncomplicated. Rather simple.
But it's so much more than its advertising and reviews have implied, largely because of Annabelle Wallis, whose work here is equally on par with Rosamund Pike's breakthrough performance in "Gone Girl."
Note in Passing: Turner Classic Movies will air "Repulsion" @ 6:15 p.m. (est) on Friday, October 31 - Halloween!
Catherine Deneuve as Carol in Roman Polanski's "Repulsion"