Movie Feature

John Leonetti brings his best scares to 'Annabelle'

By Zaki JufriMovies - 01 October 2014 8:00 AM

John Leonetti brings his best scares to 'Annabelle'

Annabelle trailer

John Leonetti has an eye for horror.

The 58-year-old cinematographer was behind horror flicks such as ‘The Conjuring’ and the two ‘Insidious’ movies, as well as episodes of horror-themed TV shows such as ‘The River’ and ‘Sleepy Hollow’. 

With ‘Annabelle’, a spin-off movie from James Wan’s ‘The Conjuring’, it is his turn to be in the director’s chair. 

The Conjuring’, 2013’s surprise horror hit based on the work of real-life supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, opens with a scene of a terrifying, demon-controlled doll wreaking havoc.

Read more: ‘The Conjuring’ movie review 

That toy, called Annabelle and based on a real-life investigative case, proved to be so memorable that she is now starring in her own scary spinoff, opening in cinemas 2 October. 

Leonetti said: “I love crafting these films as a cinematographer. But this script was so amazing, first of all. When they approached me about it – it just came out of the blue; I didn’t solicit it – I said, ‘Well, let me read the script.’ So I did. 

“It was so good that I couldn’t believe that (screenwriter) Gary Dauberman had written the first draft in just six days.”

'Demon doll" Annabelle haunts parents-to-be Mia and John (Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton)

The real Annabelle – a Raggedy Ann doll – was reportedly bought in 1970 and supposedly terrorised a family, who later called the Warrens for help. 

They claimed that the toy moved around the house when they weren’t there and left notes, and she seemingly attacked a family friend once.

The original doll, which has since been exorcised, can now be seen on display at the Warrens’ Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut, US.

Read more: inSing visits the Warren Occult Museum 

The movie ‘Annabelle’ chronicles the journey of the cursed doll – from its beginnings as a gift given to a pregnant woman by her husband, to its brush with evil when the couple was almost killed by a satanic cult.

Is Annabelle Chucky's real mom?

Although the couple survived the attack, the doll became cursed, allowing it to torment anyone that goes near it. 

Leonetti said: “It’s kind of a throwback to the past in terms of older movies like Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. I guess you could say that it’s birthed by ‘The Conjuring’.”

The movie stars Annabelle Wallis (from TV series ‘The Tudors’) as lead character Mia, Ward Horton (‘The Wolf of Wall Street’) as John, and Alfre Woodard (‘Twelve Years A Slave’) as neighbour Evelyn.

The director added: “One thing I really love is female protagonists. I’m a fan of women, and I’ve always been attracted to stories that are about women. And, honestly, as weakened as our heroine Mia becomes in the events surrounding this doll and the demon she has to confront, she is very strong and has a very powerful soul in her own right.” 

Mia, he said, was “inspired in some ways” by actress Mia Farrow in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. 



What is the first thing to do when a creepy looking doll stows away in a box into your new apartment? You display it on a shelf, of course

“If you look back at that performance, you see how amazing she was, and how timeless and classic. I think that, in a very big way, that movie inspired our vision of who Mia should be in this film… If that character, and the actor playing her, doesn’t work, the movie won’t work.”  

Even Annabelle the cursed doll is “beautiful”, he added.

“She has so many layers and is incredible with nuances – with her eyes, her hands, her expressions – without even anything coming out of her mouth… She can do a flawless American accent. I don’t know how she does it, but she does,” he quipped.

Those who enjoyed the look and feel of ‘The Conjuring’ will find a continuity in ‘Annabelle’, since both are set around 1970, with the post-production team working to manipulate the colours and tone for the movie.

In terms of “conjuring” scares for the audience and building the mood, Leonetti credits the script for providing the foundation for that.

The movie was shot almost entirely in continuity, and along with Wallis’ layered and strong performance as Mia, they kept things emotional and dramatic.

He said: “My motto on this movie is ‘less is more’, patience in suspense, and James Wan knows about that as well, obviously. So it’s always about keeping a balance between the ticking Hitchcock bomb and a jump scare, and you don’t give anything away.” 

‘Annabelle’ opens in cinemas 2 October 2014

Interview courtesy of Warner Bros. Singapore 

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