The Conjuring was a hit, deservedly so, and we’ll be following the Warrens’ next paranormal investigation of The Enfield Poltergeist. But they couldn’t wait for Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s schedule to clear before dipping back into the world of The Conjuring, so in between we get this prequel, Annabelle. This is not the Conjuring follow-up you were waiting for.
John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle Wallis) are about to have a baby, and she collects antique dolls so John finds the missing piece of her collection, the one we know becomes Annabelle. Unfortunately, Satanic cult members break into their house and one drips blood into the doll. What is this, Charles Lee Ray? Voodoo was kitschy in the ‘80s. We’re certainly not going to take it seriously now.
Annabelle gets off to a bad start with a text on screen informing us that dolls have been used in religious rites for good and evil. That’s just silly. We’re already buying into a killer doll movie. Don’t insult us with faux historical gravitas.
The horror in Annabelle is waiting for the doll to terrorize Mia, who is home alone with the new baby. It’s really boring waiting for the doll/demon to attack and there’s not much atmosphere to last. Even if you haven’t seen The Conjuring, you can tell this is a watered down version because they’ve already used up the good ideas.
Annabelle wants to create a creepy atmosphere while you wait for the terror, but it’s just impossible with a overlit set that looks cheap and rushed. The big scares are telegraphed. When John leaves a Jiffy Pop style popcorn tin on the oven, you know it’s going to pop itself. With all the closeups on Mia’s sewing machine, you’re just waiting for her to cut her finger. Turn off a record player and yadda yadda yadda.
Director John R. Leonetti and cinematographer James Kniest use the widescreen frame a lot, keeping actions on opposite sides so we can’t focus on the left and right sides at the same time. It only manifests in someone creeping around in the background. A few cool effects include a creepy little girl transforming into a crazy woman in an instant, and a demon barely visible in the shadows. Was there some GoPro footage mixed in? Every once in a while it cuts to something very low-res.
God bless Wallis and Horton for doing everything they can to give this generic couple some personality. They play it sincerely, but there’s just nothing there. They’re written so wooden, it doesn’t give them much to work with, but Wallis and Horton make them seem like a good couple who communicate well and resolve conflicts, even if the actual dialogue won’t let them say anything with any real weight to it.
The gist of Annabelle is a spirit gets into the doll and makes scary stuff happen. That’s it. It really feels like a straight to video sequel doing the bare minimum to qualify for the name-recognition title. Actually, Annabelle overdoes its connections to The Conjuring, trying too hard to remind us of the better movie that spawned it. You’d hope even a knockoff would have some fun with the premise, but Annabelle is just rote, and not effective enough to get away with rote.