We’ve seen it a thousand times if we’ve seen it once: A successful horror movie begets not-so-successful offspring. Annabelle is a prime example. One year after The Conjuring, with a new writer (Gary Dauberman: first time writer) and new director (John R. Leonetti: Butterfly Effect 2, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation), we’re given a lower budget, mediocre tale that somewhat follows Annabelle’s predetermined story.
Mia (Annabelle Wallace) and her husband John (Ward Horton) are expecting their first child in 1969. She’s a doll collector, so to show her just how much he loves her and their new family, John buys her a rare doll – one she’s been hunting for years. Can you guess who? Throw in some cultists, add a dash of murder in the name of Satan, and a pinch of demon summoning, and suddenly we’ve got an evil doll causing mayhem in suburbia.
One of the biggest problems in Annabelle is the heavy-handed foreshadowing. If the camera focuses in on an object for more that a few seconds, you know that later on that item will become an instrument of terror. When a character deliberately mentions a person or place, you can bet they/it will come into play. Any time Mia is alone in her home, she’ll be terrorized. Every scare runs at you carrying a strobe light and blowing a rape whistle, just to be certain you’re paying attention when the not-so-scary man in blue demon makeup jumps in front of the screen, and not checking how many ‘likes’ on Facebook you’ve got for ‘checking in’ at a pre-screening of the movie. (AH-AH-AHEM…that’s right, I’m talking to you, Dillweed. I saw you.)
It’s incredibly hard to suspend reality to a point of believing that anyone in their right mind would want to collect a doll as hideous as Annabelle. Even pre-demon she’s incredibly unappealing. It would have been easier to believe that she started out beautiful, but when the demon attaches itself she begins morphing into that fat-faced-Willam-Dafoe-in-pigtails creature, and becomes uglier and uglier the longer the demon remains. But hey, I don’t write the movies, I just critique – so I digress.
The acting is stiff, and it isn’t surprising since the budget limited the casting ability. Having relatively new faces taking the leads rarely pans out for films. With a less than mediocre script, Annabelle desperately needed an injection of personality that the cast simply couldn’t provide. The one stand-out performance comes from Alfre Woodard, who plays a friendly neighbor and maternal figure for Mia. Her character isn’t incredibly inventive, but Woodard does the best with what she is given to work with.
Annabelle squashes any real interest within the story by opting for the most generic horror tricks in the book: red herrings, jump-out scares, flickering lights, occult tropes that never come to fruition, and a cop-out ending. It’s a mash-up of some of the biggest horror cliches from beginning to end, borrowing from every demon, doll, cult, and ghost movie that litters the bowels of the genre. If you’re looking for a thrill ride like The Conjuring, just go watch The Conjuring.
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