I reviewed The Conjuring on here last year and as I’m positive you read that review you know how fond I was of that movie. James Wan, at least until he moved over to the Fast and Furious world, was killing it in the horror genre. I loved both The Conjuring and Insidious (its sequel was merely good) and maintain that Dead Silence is severely underrated (as is Death Sentence which isn’t exactly horror). Sadly Wan is only a producer on this one. Add that to how quickly they pumped this movie out in an effort to keep The Conjuring brand alive and well as they work on the sequel and I didn’t have a lot of hope for this one.
Annabelle opens with the same scene used to introduce her in The Conjuring which felt a tad unnecessary and served as a reminder that god damn that movie was good and this one no doubt won’t measure up to it. From there we are introduced to our protagonists Mia and John, a couple so wholesome and bland they feel as though they came straight out of a classic 1960’s sitcom. Seriously they could have added a studio audience reacting to all of their dialogue and it would feel perfectly at home. I kept expecting all of their sentences to begin or end with “Golly gee”. So yeah our two lead characters are quite bland, as are the performances behind them but my god they did not have a lot to work with here. Actually that’s not entirely fair, Annabelle Wallis is quite good as Mia and I don’t normally highlight things like this but that is a very attractive woman right there. She has a Naomi Watts vibe going on and damn can she ever pull off the period clothing well.
So John and Mia are perfectly happy so you know shit is going to go real bad for them. John buys Mia the Annabelle doll and she is super psyched about it because she collects dolls and apparently this is a rare one that she has been searching for. I don’t get why on Earth anyone would want to be in the same town as that thing let alone the same room but she is real excited. The excitement wears off when that night they are almost murdered by a couple of cultists who sneak into their home after murdering their neighbors. A fight ensues and the cultists are killed, causing the blood of the girl cultist to drip down onto Annabelle. Then demons and all sorts of other shit happen.
I was surprised that for a movie marketed around a killer doll; the doll doesn’t really factor that much into the story at all. It’s actually mostly about demons and possession, the doll often relegated to the background or being the source of one of the film’s many jump scares. At no point does it come to life or move around or anything of the sort which I guess isn’t a huge disappointment as my god would that ever have looked silly. Though at least it would have made the movie unique as we’ve seen this possession stuff countless times and Annabelle does not make much of an attempt to spin the material in a fresh way.
Annabelle is largely what you would call a “jump scare factory” movie, often much more interested in providing loud sudden noises rather than genuine suspense. It always feels manipulative as within the fiction there obviously was not a loud “BWOMG!” noise when most of these moments happened but I also can’t say it doesn’t often prove effective. At least they don’t lean too heavily on the fake jump scare. You know, “oh shit a hand reached out and grabbed me! Oh it’s just my friend Steve.” That nonsense.
There are though a few stand-out sequences that make Annabelle worth the watch. The opening where the cult attacks is very well shot and staged, often continuing the same unbroken shot for an extended period of time. Yes almost the entire scene was featured in the trailer but presented in its full form it proves to be largely effective. The absolute highlight though is a sequence featuring a dark storage room hallway, an old timey stroller, and an elevator. This whole part got me good and unfortunately nothing that follows this is able to even match it let alone top it. The finale is largely underwhelming and features a conclusion ripped straight out of The Conjuring which feels particularly lazy.
Hey why are husbands in horror movies always the worst? Why won’t you believe your wife about this shit dude? Do you really think she would lie about all of this? It always makes it hard to root for the husband character when he is so immediately dismissive of his wife’s claims. “Oh I’m sure you’re just stressed.” Fuck you dude! Ghosts are happening! Stop being a prick and help out! One of my favourite things about The Conjuring was how quickly the husband jumped on board with everything that was happening so it’s disappointing to see the same tired cliché play out here.
Annabelle is a perfectly adequate horror movie that has the misfortune of being attached to one of the better horror movies of the last few years. It has a few well done sequences but bland characters, poor dialogue and a number of familiar tropes, not to mention a lack of focus on the doll itself, keep it from exceling. It’s worth a cheap matinee at most.