SYNOPSIS: This prequel to “The Conjuring” proves that you can’t keep a good doll down. It tells the story of Annabelle, that movie’s creepy, possessed doll, before she was safely locked away in ghost hunter Ed and Lorraine Warren’s cabinet of curiosities. The story begins in the late 1960s with a gift from John (Ward Horton) to his expectant wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis). He buys her Annabelle, a seemingly harmless vintage doll, decked out in a lace wedding dress. “She fits right in,” Mia squeals. The quiet peace of John and Mia’s life is broken by a Manson Family style home invasion, and even though Mia and John survive, strange things start happening in the wake of the attack and it looks like Annabelle has something to do with the weird goings on.
Richard: 3 Stars
Mark: 3 Stars
Richard: Mark, Annabelle is like a Haunted House attraction at Halloween. There’s nothing that’s really, truly soul-scorchingly scary inside, but it will give you a few good jolts. It’s part psychological drama, part Paranormal Activity and is filled with good weird atmosphere, but where The Conjuring had the benefit of two strong leads in Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, Annabelle’s stars, Wallis and Horton, aren’t very compelling. She put me in the mind of Sharon Tate, which is appropriate for the time and story and Horton reminded me of… nothing much at all. More interesting leads might have made me care more about the story. Were you scared?
Mark: Yes I was, Richard, more from the expert filmmaking than what the actors brought to the picture. The director uses a lot of unusual camera angles and unexpected cuts to raise the suspense. And unlike so many horror movies that take place in dark, decrepit mansions, this one is bathed in light and uses a lot of California pastels. The story is familiar but the look of the movie kept me off balance. But it owes a big debt to Rosemary’s Baby, which you hinted at in referencing Tate, who was married to Roman Polanski. Horton looks a lot like John Cassavetes, the plot involves children and satanic cults and the couple lives in a penthouse. Do I make a decent case?
RC: It definitely has echoes of Rosemary’s Baby and I’d add in a taste of Repulsion in there as well. The actors may be milquetoasty, but the movie’s low-key eerie atmosphere isn’t. Director John R. Leonetti amps up the tension but without the use of computer generated special effects. Instead he relies on silence and everyday sounds to make your skin crawl. The Self-Operating Sewing Machine from Hell and Satan’s Popcorn are effectively used in a movie that may be the quietest horror film ever made.
MB: Yes, the movie is very good at making inanimate objects spooky. I also never thought of Cherish by The Association as being a scary song, but it’s just another example of how Leonetti twists conventions in this otherwise conventional movie. The part of the film that least impressed me was Annabelle herself. Not to malign the doll, but she’s no Bride of Chucky.
RC: She’s no Barbie either! She’s simply the prop that will allow producers to string together a series of prequels and sequels based on devil doll lore. Possessed or not, I’m guessing she works cheaper than the human actors.
MB: Wait! Barbie as devil doll! Talk about rebranding! Let’s get the pitch ready…