When you look back at Annabelle (Dir: John R. Leonette) in a few years from now, you won’t remember it for the great storyline, characters, or the semantic relationship between the components of storytelling. What you will savor as an experience is some scary, spooky buildup, a decent performance by Annabelle Wallis as Mia, and a movie true to the formula used and abused in horrors. Make no mistake though; Annabelle is far from boring. It might not compare to classics from the genre, but it’s still an entertaining watch. If you happen to dislike horrors in general, it’s not for you. If you happen to be a horror fanatic, this just might be another one of those great experiences to muster and pile up in the unlimited storage of horror fiction over the years.
Starting with the opening scene from The Conjuring (2013), Annabelle kicks off with a young family of Mia and John (Ward Horton) in a new neighborhood, sometime in the mid-60s, soon expecting the incumbent child. John gifts Mia, an ardent doll collector, a Raggedy Ann doll. The same night, Mia hears somebody murder her friendly neighbors, which later transforms into a full-blown attack on Mia as well. The partners in crime—a woman named Annabelle Higgins and her boyfriend. Both vowed under the oaths of some satanic cult seeking souls as offerings for the demonic master. Luckily, the Cops, whom Mia had called just before the attack ensued, save the day for the unborn child and the couple. They kill the boyfriend, while Annabelle commits suicide leaving her flesh, but as destiny would have, she would continue to roam around this family and the world as spirit seeking an innocent soul.
A decent setup and eerie 20 minutes in, Annabelle trudges on fine as a horror movie. The buildup conjures large portions of the first half, expectedly, and it’s quite interesting to watch the spirit of Annabelle encased within the doll arrest Mia in a position of paranoia and despair. Nothing extraordinary, but interesting nonetheless. Once Mia and John move out of the house into the Apartment, the horror elements kick in and we leap from ghosts to demons, especially one creature almost an ode to William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist – the classic later adapted by William Friedkin in 1973.
With that said, Annabelle lacks the conviction of The Conjuring or Wan’s masterpiece Insidious Chapter 1. The doll literally possessed by the spirit of Annabelle Higgins does nothing out of the ordinary and the most monstrous moments come from the demonic creature identical to the monster from Insidious Chapter 1, or stretching back, similar to, Pazazu from The Exorcist. In terms of originality, Annabelle borrows most of its dramatic elements and archetypes from its predecessors of the genre, but what really shackled the movie was the patchy fleshing of the characters. Mia is fine as the strong-willed, archetypical mother. Her husband, John, doesn’t have the scope or the hard-hitting bearing on the turn of events. It’s rather an inconsequential role. And, you could tell the projection of Evelyn (Alfre Woodward) as the protective fairy mother from a mile apart, which took away the surprise element from the climax.
The spirit of Annabelle in the doll does radiate an eerie vibe, but not enough to scare you or convince you of an incoming doom. What’s disappointing is that the doom never really feels treacherous, but rather glitters as a staged conflict with predictability being the main theme. The monstrous creature adds the thrills, even though far away and in between, and is a palatable throwback to earlier in the movie when Annabelle and her boyfriend pounced on Mia and her neighbors. In essence, it tries to skirt the devil (boyfriend) and its other half (Annabelle) in its human form to later in a supernatural form, during the penultimate attack, this time as demon and spirit. This ploy arcs as a convincing trinity that the writers may or may not have intended, but it adds a conflicting triangle to the Holy Trinity. In this case, it’s the Demon, the Object, and the Spirit—not quite the Unholy Trinity—perhaps the Demonic Trinity.
For what it is, Annabelle has its moments and is a good entertainer, especially for horror buffs. I don’t particularly believe that a neutral would appreciate Annabelle as much as a horror fan would, but hey–it’s not nearly as poor as the word that’s been spread. The comparisons to yesteryear horrors would pin it as a pale imitation. What it lacks for originality, it makes up by entertaining the viewer. Watch it for the experience, if not for the decent story.