Directed by: John R. Leonetti.
Written by: Gary Dauberman.
Starring: Annabelle Wallis (Mia), Ward Horton (John Gordon), Tony Amendola (Father Perez), Alfre Woodard (Evelyn), Kerry O'Malley (Sharon Higgins), Brian Howe (Pete Higgins), Eric Ladin (Detective Clarkin).
I have two daughters – one three, the other 7 months – so I have quite a few dolls in my house, and I can tell you this – they all kind of creep me out. In Jaws, Robert Shaw’s Quint compares to sharks eyes to dolls eyes – cold and dead – and that is a big part of it. They can lifelike in some ways, but the eyes are always cold and dead. They aren’t really cute like a stuffed animal. In short, before I even walked into Annabelle, I was creeped out by dolls. The doll in Annabelle is way creepier than any dolls my children have – and much of what works about the film is based purely on the doll itself – this despite the fact that it never really does anything but sit there.
If you saw last years The Conjuring – one of the best mainstream American horror films in recent years – than you undoubtedly remember Annabelle from the prologue to that film – where the creepy doll does strange thing to a pair of nurses, who hire Ed and Lorraine to save them from its power – which they do. This film is about the couple who owned Annabelle before those nurses – and what they went through.
Its 1969 – and we see a news report on TV about the Manson family. Young couple Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton) are expecting their first child. They live in sunny California – next to an older couple, who lost their only daughter a few years before when she ran off with the hippies. She doesn’t stay away for long in the movie – coming back with her boyfriend, and killing her parents, before coming next door for Mia and John. The pair survives, of course, but not without some trauma. As the young woman lies dying, she holds onto the title doll – and whatever she was trying to do (we learn the pair of murderers were in a cult and were trying to conjure something) – goes into that doll – and follows Mia and John even after they move into an apartment – obviously based on the one in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.
Annabelle tries, with limited success, to replicate the success of The Conjuring. Both films rely much more on atmosphere than blood or gore, or even the cheap boo moments that many horror films rely on today. The film is genuinely unsettlingly in its best moments – and benefits greatly from the atmosphere in that apartment, and from the appearance of Alfre Woodard as a friendly neighbor half way through – the rest of the cast is merely okay, but she’s actually quite good, and makes you believe her character, even though what she does in unbelievable (and perhaps even a little offensive).
But Annabelle leans a little too heavily on its influence – The Conjuring, Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist among them. The prologue of this film – which is basically a recap of the prologue of The Conjuring – also undercuts the horror of this film as well, as it shows us things that we would probably not wish to forget before seeing this film. The Conjuring, which to be fair was also an Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby clone – was able to stake out its on spot on the landscape. That’s why it is one of the very best of the many, many clones of that pair of iconic horror films in the last 40 plus year. Annabelle is better than many of those same clones, but nowhere close to The Conjuring. It’s a middle of the road horror film – effective, yet entirely forgettable.