I can’t really complain when a horror movie is “decent.” Most of the time they’re just not even worth seeing, that I don’t mind when one is a little clichéd but at least has its moments. “Annabelle” is once such film. It’s a sort of prequel/spinoff hybrid (pre-off?) of last year’s overwhelming successful “The Conjuring” which remains of the best horror films of recent memory. In it we learned a little about the case of Annabelle, a possessed doll that wreaked havoc for a pair of nursing students. Here we learn about how the doll came to be possessed in the first place. It’s basically a made up story, and even the film knows it. The movie feels more inclined to remind you that it’s related to “The Conjuring” instead of reminding you that’ it’s “based on true events.” And rightfully so. But is it any good?
First off the film has a delightful “Rosemary’s Baby” vibe which I enjoyed. We’re introduced to a young, happy married couple Mia (Annabelle Wallis, yeah that’s her name seriously) and John (Ward Horton, sort of bland but likable). Mia is pregnant and everything seems right in the world. That is until satanic cultists murder the older couple next door (an extremely intense and well executed sequence) and attack Mia and John as well leaving Mia on permanent bed rest for the rest of her pregnancy. And you know that creepy antique doll that John just gave to Mia? One of the satanic murderers possessed it before killing herself. Of course Mia and John don’t quite know it yet. Mia suspects something’s up as she notices strange occurrences in the house, one of which causes the couple to move to an apartment building after one intense incident. This sets into motion the clichéd idea that Mia is witnessing strange activity and her husband doesn’t believe her.
There is something strange going on and it has everything to do with the creepy doll that just doesn’t seem to go away, even when John tries to throw it out. Most of the visions and incidents that Mia experiences are similar to what we’ve seen in the “Insidious” films. And that makes sense since first time feature director John R. Leonetti was James Wan’s director of photography on those films (and many others). Where “Insidious” creeped us out with that scary red-faced demon, we’re given an equally creepy demon that stays hidden enough to cause a good case of the willies. He gives the film and equally creepy and familiar feel which sort of works. He emphasizes suspense over gore. And his attempts to make normally unscary objects, like sewing machines, creepy sort of works. The film sort of hits all the standard horror movie beats and all the scares are firmly in the right place but I sort of was transfixed by this likable couple and their plight, even if the story’s progression feels sort of herky jerky.
Most audiences won’t forgive this nubile couple for actually wanting such a creepy doll in their house, whether possessed or not, but sometimes you have to just go with it. The real life Annabelle was just a Raggedy Ann doll but I imagine Raggedy Ann sales would plummet if portrayed in such a way. “Annabelle” is a competently made movie. It’s nothing particularly special, but there’s nothing overtly terrible about it. It’s scary enough and sometimes that’s good enough. It suffers in comparison to the “The Conjuring” mostly in that Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are sorely missed but odds are if you enjoyed that film you’re bound to enjoy this. Just leave the creepy dolls at home. GRADE: B
Trailer for Annabelle on TrailerAddict.