Annabelle rides on the coattails of The Conjuring but distinguishes itself only as well-executed jump-scare flick.
In the late 1960s, young couple Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and her husband John (Ward Horton) are expecting their first child. Annabelle is a rare doll presented to Mia as a gift to complete her collection, but the sanctity of the object is desecrated when a pair of Satanists enter the couple’s home and makes an attempt on Mia’s life. A series of incidents begin to occur in the presence of the doll, the only connection being that one of Satanists took her life while holding the object. Before long, it becomes clear that something is very wrong and that Annabelle is inexplicably at the center of it.
From the paranormal case files of the Warrens (kind of) comes the (possible) story of a doll manipulated by an evil force. Was this film as good as The Conjuring? No, and the worst thing about that movie was the unfortunate title. For folks seeking an above-average Halloween flick, however, it’s fun and effective, even for a period piece. For those interested in the true account of the actual doll, you can read it online at Warrens.net, but this also reveals that the film is pure speculation since Ed and Lorraine Warren only came into contact with the doll after another couple acquired it. That said, the filmmakers manage to take a stock plot and infuse it with enough atmosphere and original scares to satisfy your Halloween craving.
The first film that comes to mind is the ill-fated NBC remake of “Rosemary’s Baby,” a made-for-TV teleplay that felt overlong and unfulfilling, especially that unsold ending. Annabelle fixes those missed motherly opportunities by keeping to the familiar stock plot, infusing the creep factor with misleading hints before trading up to something more clever and surprisingly effective. Your plot recipe is as follows: start with a skeptical but devout couple, mix in a bit of tragedy, cue the overinformed yet convenient bookstore owner played predictably by someone like Alfre Woodard, and add a priest for good measure so you know just how evil your cursed object really is. So, yeah, you can see the movie unfolding from outside of the theater, but the execution is certainly above average for a flick like this.
Truth be told, Annabelle was actually a Raggedy Ann doll, far creepier than her fictional counterpart…but also apparently trademarked by publisher Simon & Schuster licensed as a Hasbro product (Hasbro reportedly only profits on Ouija-branded spirit boards that speak with demons, not cursed dolls controlled by them, so let’s save that for another review…coming soon!) Another interesting point here is that Annabelle doesn’t move so much as she is moved by the demonic force controlling her – although it’s hard not to keep watching to see if she does. There are some good messages here about messing with things that you shouldn’t and the way evil uses your lack of knowledge and disbelief to get away with murder, so whether you believe in the man upstairs or not, consider a warning from Ed Warren himself: “Religions are man-made, but spirituality isn’t.” That said, let’s have a real case file from the Warrens for the next film installment, shall we?
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)