For those who remember The Conjuring — it was only about a year ago — now you have a prequel and spinoff. Why? Because The Conjuring made a ton of money. Remember that short film at the beginning of that film? The one about the possessed doll? Annabelle was its name. Well, fittingly, Annabelle is about this very doll, but about its exploits before it finds itself in the hands of these college kids. Here, it’s bought by a married couple with a baby due any minute.
Well, they’re a couple, but the woman, Mia (Annabelle Wallis), is our lead. She’s about eight months pregnant as we begin the film, so she doesn’t really do a whole lot. John (Ward Horton) is a doctor, so he works all hours of the day. He buys her this doll, Annabelle, because it completes a collection, even though it’s probably the ugliest doll anyone’s ever made. Soon enough, their house is invaded by members of a satanic cult, and one of them manages to make Annabelle possessed. Then things start going wrong.
Annabelle is the type of movie that wants to scare its audience and characters, although why it needs to scare anyone at all is beyond me. Most of the scare techniques are done for our benefit. It’s eventually explained to us that the demon possessing the doll wants a soul, but it can’t actually just take one; it has to have one offered. Everything that it does is just trickery. You know, except for that very real fire that it started earlier. What happens if that would have succeeded? Not a very good plan, is it?
The film is less scary for the characters involved than it is for us — and that’s saying something, since it’s not particularly terrifying for us, either. I say this based on one item of note: the characters don’t have the benefit of the musical score to tell them when to jump. They just have to see things moving in the shadows. We hear them, and when the music suddenly gets really quiet and then increases its volume by 500%, we know it’s a scary moment. Annabelle is populated by a ton of jump scares, and not the good kind. The ones here are so poorly telegraphed that you’ll know exactly when most of them are coming.
Annabelle doesn’t work because of this. It doesn’t try to build a scary atmosphere, and instead relies on jump scares to try to, well, scare us, even if the most they’ll provide is a temporary startle. The characters it gives us have so little personality that it’s impossible to build any sort of emotional connection to them. Why does their story matter? Well, it doesn’t. It really doesn’t at all. There’s no reason to care.
Worst of all, Annabelle is boring. It opens really slowly, has a few moments of interest — the home invasion scene provides the single effective jump scare in the entire film — and then goes back and forth between boring daytime scenes and “scary” nighttime ones, where Mia hears things or sees things, or perhaps the sewing machine has randomly been turned on, or the doll is sitting in a chair instead of on its shelf. And then the demon actually appears and it was impossible for me to stifle my laughter.
Actually, that’s not worst of all. Worst of all is how Annabelle kind of becomes uninteresting by the time this movie is over. The Conjuring‘s best segment was about the creepy doll. Now, it’s all explained and I don’t know how effective that short is going to be. In a few minutes, Annabelle was creepy. After 100 minutes, Annabelle is dull. That’s … not good. And if we were hoping to turn this into a franchise? Well, let’s just say I don’t think the prospects are looking good. (But making lots of money can make up for anything in a studio’s mind.)
Annabelle is just a bad horror movie. It’s not scary. It relies on telegraphed jump scares — accompanied with loud music — and completely neglects to create any sort of atmosphere or sustained feeling of suspense. We don’t care about these characters, as they’re poorly acted and have no real characterization. The story is silly and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and it’s hard to stop laughing at how dumb it all gets by the end.