Annabelle has a few good scares just in time for Halloween
After appearing briefly in ‘The Conjuring,’ the Annabelle doll gets its own movie, but will it make your blood run cold and send chills down your spine?
Last summer a major studio gave us a moderately budgeted haunted house movie, The Conjuring, that scared up some good buzz and doubled its budget in profit. It seemed inevitable that there would be a sequel featuring lead characters Ed and Lorraine Warren, but legal wranglings over who owns the rights to the Warrens’ case files may have scuttled a direct sequel (although IMDB lists a Conjuring follow-up with stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga for 2015).
To keep the franchise alive, New Line has produced a sort-of-prequel featuring a minor character from the first movie: the cursed doll known as Annabelle. The doll was only an indirect precursor to what was to come in The Conjuring, and here we see another version of that expository scene (minus any appearance by Ed and Lorraine) which sets up a flashback that is the doll’s origin story.
Annabelle starts out innocently enough with just another sought after doll that’s part of a collection of three. John and Mia Gordon are expecting, and John (Ward Horton) gets the apparently rare Victorian doll for Mia (Annabelle Wallis) as a gift. After the Gordons’ neighbors are murdered by cult members (one of whom is their estranged daughter Annabelle), the killers invade the Gordon home and nearly kill Mia and her unborn child (shades of the Manson Family murders which happened during the same 70s era of the film). The police arrive in time to kill the murderers, and a single drop of Annabelle’s blood seeps into the doll, setting off months of horror for the Gordons.
It seems the cult members were actually interested in conjuring some demonic forces and whatever it is that they have unleashed wants a new soul, but the soul cannot be taken. It must be offered, and the question is will Mia fall for the demon’s tricks and offer up her baby or herself?
Annabelle isn’t quite as good or as scary as The Conjuring, but it gets the job done as expected for a horror film released this time of year. The film’s strength comes in one particularly blood-curdling scene in the basement storage area where some thing is lurking and then reappears in the shadows a few more times to truly jolt Mia and the audience. I also appreciate that these films from producer James Wan eschew flashy CGI for physical effects and people in some truly frightening makeup. Extra points for never showing the doll moving on its own.
The film’s success also rests almost squarely on the shoulders of Annabelle Wallis who is in almost every scene. Besides being ethereally beautiful, Wallis perfectly delivers all of Mia’s emotions as she goes through her pregnancy, the terror of the attack, trying to get back on track after the birth and a move to a new home, and then dealing with almost unseen forces that may be trying to take her baby.
Ward Horton is almost as pretty as Wallis, but he ends up being more of a supporting character as he disappears for large portions of the film and then becomes kind of a red herring when he behaves in a way that makes you wonder if he’s somehow part of the plot to take the baby’s soul. Alfre Woodard, as a wise bookstore owner who seems to know more than she lets on, also feels like she’s part of something. The film becomes a little derivative of Rosemary’s Baby towards the end but, thankfully, doesn’t quite go there.
My only real complaint is the director’s over-reliance on REALLY LOUD MUSICAL CUES to scare the audience when the visuals should be enough to do the job. I was hoping that what Wan had accomplished in the relatively quiet The Conjuring (and even into Insidious Chapter 2) would have carried over into Annabelle, even though it’s directed by someone else (John R. Leonetti, the cinematographer of The Conjuring). Curtains blowing just don’t need to be accompanied by a shockingly loud sound effect.
Overall, Annabelle may not be as creepy as it could have been, but it’s an effective thriller with a few genuinely scary moments and some strong performances that should do some big business during the Halloween season.