Serving as a prequel to 2013’s The Conjuring, Annabelle tries to set up the mythology surrounding an unlikely highlight of the 2013 film, a vintage porcelain doll that the Lorraines (the supernatural investigators of The Conjuring) investigated before handling the main haunting of that film, the farmhouse from hell. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 29%, Annabelle falls well below The Conjuring’s 89%. But all’s not lost with this installment.
Annabelle goes back in time to the 60s, around the period of the Manson murders and builds up the fear during those years, by having television sets and radios playing the Manson reportage of the time, forewarning of things to come. Newlyweds John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle Wallis, yes, the actress is also called Annabelle) have moved into their new home, with Mia on the verge of popping out a baby when their next-door neighbors get murdered in the dead of night. Mia wakes up to some noise from next door and John ventures off into the neighbors’ home, only to come back running and commands his wife to call the cops while he dashes back into the neighbors’ home. While Mia calls the cops, the two killers sneak into the newlyweds home and do their best to decapitate Mia and her unborn baby. While she does get injured, a timely entrance by her husband and the cops prevent any further hiccups, putting bullets into the perpetrators.
One of the perpetrators is Annabelle, the neighbors’ daughter who ran away and conveniently joined a cult of demon worshippers (again leaning into the Manson vibe). While the cops shoot her down, she’s holding the porcelain doll that John gifted to Mia for their newborn baby, muttering some bullshit that can only be an incantation.
So the stage is set for Annabelle. While Mia recovers and John gets acclimated to his new job, cue the strange occurrences. Television flickers and sewing machines automatically turning on at night even though there we no smart homes at the time. Mia gets creepy vibes from the doll and asks John to get rid of it, and the madness escalates when some popcorn on the stove turns on (once again, automatically) while Mia’s home alone to set the house on fire. Time for a move to a new apartment, Mia and John think, with the newborn baby in tow. While unpacking in their new home, that sadistic looking doll somehow manages to get into one of the moving boxes. But why throw it out again, right?
Annabelle doesn’t transcend or add great moments to the horror movie genre, instead relying on spinning off the more generic and bankable tactics to set up scares. The film brings in a pastor to deal with the ever-growing irrational incidents with Tony Amendola’s Father Perez, and also Alfre Woodard’s Evelyn, a local bookseller who “luckily” understands demonic possession.
Interestingly, barring one sequence toward the end, most of the scares are done in well-lit rooms and surroundings rather than engulfing the picture in darkness. It’s a refreshing twist that doesn’t quite create the results it ought to, dampening the spirit of horror. But from a different perspective, Annabelle doesn’t feel like a horror movie.
It comes off as a drama, highlighting a mother’s protective instincts to safeguard her daughter. The maternal theme is ever present, even with the introduction where a twisted daughter decides to kill her parents. This is counteracted by the somewhat more loving and nurturing relationship Mia has with her daughter, and the demonically possessed doll, hereon called Annabelle, attempts to drive a wedge there.
When the movie is looked at through this different lens as opposed to a strict horror movie, it becomes exponentially better. You notice a couple’s continued struggle to protect their daughter, but Mia does a much better job than John, the father. Annabelle Wallis is outstanding in conveying this sentiment through her character, and it’s one of the saving graces of the movie. The simple things like how she holds her baby, how she looks anxious and worried, and how she rushes to her daughter when things go south, are all evidence of this. The theme of a mother’s love continues until the very end, even drawing support from Woodard’s Evelyn to concoct a surprise ending that hits from left of center. Don’t expect Annabelle to be an amazing horror film, but go in with an open mind to its central theme and you won’t be disappointed.
- The central theme focusing on a mother’s love is an unexpected avenue for the viewer to pay attention to, providing more value than the film’s horror shticks.
- Annabelle Wallis delivers with her acting, and you’d think the child was actually hers and was actually being pestered by a demon bitch.
- Annabelle the doll can be a frustrating figure with the trouble she brews. And while she isn’t very scary, her irksome nature allows you to root for the good guys in the film.
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Movie Info (From The Hollywood Reporter)
Production: Atomic Monster, Safran Company
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Tony Amendola, Alfre Woodard, Kerry O’Malley
Director: John Leonetti
Screenwriter: Gary Dauberman
Producers: Peter Safran, James Wan
Executive producers: Richard Brener, Walter Hamada, Dave Neustadter, Hans Ritter, Steven Mnuchin
Director of photography: James Kniest
Editor: Tom Elkins
Production designer: Bob Ziembicki
Costume designer: Janet Ingram
Composer: Joseph Bishara
Casting: Lauren Bass, Jordan Bass
Rated R, 98 min.