How is it that a movie about a grinning, haunted Victorian style doll be so boring? That’s what I kept asking myself until the last act of this prequel to the horrifying “The Conjuring”, and I came to the conclusion it’s actually less scary than an actual old doll.
After a picturesque 70’s family is attacked by satanic cult members, the movie tries to be relationship drama about a couple trying to rebuild after said home invasion. There’s of course the doltish husband who never takes anything seriously (Ward Horton) and a wife who seems to be made out of more wood than Annabelle (coincidently played by Annabelle Wallis).
The movie moves along at a snail’s pace as the wife, Mia, is followed by the ghost of one of the cult members whose suicide transferred her soul into a creepy little doll. Now I don’t know much about putting souls in children’s toys, but I like to think once it’s in there they can’t come out so easily.
The movie contradicts that though; most of the horror scenes involve Mia being haunted by the ghost of the woman herself—who bears an uncanny resemblance to the ghost lady in “The Conjuring” (They’ll probably team up for “Marvel’s The Dead Ladies”). She turns TVs on and off, causes some Jiffy Pop to go haywire. You know, really evil stuff.
You see very little of the creepy doll in the beginning aside from some lingering single-shots of the doll, which put a lot of focus on the eyes. You think at any moment they’re gonna blink impulsively. Annabelle is for sure one creepy doll, she just doesn’t do anything other than hang about and show up in random places the characters swore they put her somewhere else. The fiend!
First time director John Leonitti who was the cinematographer on “The Conjuring” has effectively transferred some of his skills over to “Annabelle”. Certain scenes—like a murder filmed through a window or a brilliant scene in an elevator and the following bit on a staircase with a “Insidious”/”Rosemary’s Baby” devil figure — do exactly what a good horror scene should do, which is change how you approach an object or setting. The result for some people is that they’ll never use an elevator or stairs again. I pity those who have to go to their apartment basement to do laundry.
However, most of the movie is filmed during the day with plenty of light and lots of lamps planted everywhere. What makes any horror movie work is a shadowy, intense atmosphere that lingers with a sense of dread. Here, I felt safe and cozy most of the time, which is not what I wanted. I want nightmares, dammit!
The end surprisingly concludes the underlying story of dealing with life after a tragedy quite well with a sudden twist that moves Annabelle onto the next family, and leads into “The Conjuring”. This is all well and good and makes it more thoughtful than most horror movies, but as a result I left the theater longing for the feeling of dread to follow me to bed. Sadly, I slept soundly that night.