★ / ★★★★
Observe the first thirty minutes and it will be as clear as a bright sunny day that “Annabelle” is made only for the sake of making money. It lacks the inspiration to set up a scene properly so that the eventual scares are effective, the creativity to write a genuinely engaging story, and the courage to separate itself from James Wan’s “The Conjuring,” the picture where Annabelle-the-doll is introduced.
The picture takes place a year before paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were asked to investigate a haunting in a nurse’s apartment. Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton) are expecting their baby to be born some time soon, but things begin to go horribly awry when John gives Mia a doll as a present.
It is as if writer Gary Dauberman and director John R. Leonetti did not understand why “The Conjuring” works as an effective horror film. Most important is that this picture is not patient enough. It is too willing to deliver superficial “jolts” far too often—if one is generous enough to call them that—that it fails to garner enough tension and momentum to really pack a punch when it counts. One of the movie’s inspirations is Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.” Both films involve a pregnant woman and the occult, but the similarities stop there.
The first half is extremely repetitive. Appliances around the house activating on their own is almost always coupled with quick shots of the sewing machine threatening to puncture a pregnant woman’s finger. What does one have to do with the other? I suspected that the filmmakers knew that appliances turning on by themselves is not scary. Therefore, they felt the need to throw in images of a woman’s fingers being threatened by the needle of sewing machine in between. It is such a cynical approach that I found it offensive. There is a scene involving a popcorn on an oven that is taken directly from Wes Craven’s “Scream.” This movie is so bad, I wished it had been a spoof.
As for the couple, Wallis and Horton share no chemistry whatsoever. So when Mia ends up hurt and John is there to comfort her, it is like watching paint dry. I saw two actors uttering lines of a script but not actually feeling the scene. The only performer I found to be making interesting choices at times is Alfre Woodard as the neighbor. But even her character’s backstory is a cliché.
I was not expecting a slasher film à la Chuky the killer doll. But I did expect—as we should—a certain level of intelligence, cohesion, and an attempt at originality. But you know what else I expected? Because of the title, it is implied that we will get to see the doll many times or maybe even learn about its origins. I did not want to see it walking or running around, but I did want shots that show the doll being creepy by simply sitting there with its permanent smile. We learn close to nothing about the doll that the film might as well have been titled, “Pregnant Woman Running Around Screaming.”
“Annabelle” does not have a single subtle bone in its body. Thus, we become inured to its type of scares that the filmmakers set their work to fail. The movie is only an hour and thirty minutes long but it feels much longer than that. You want to see the doll really scare? Watch the first three to five minutes of “The Conjuring” again and spend the rest of the time you would have spent here actually doing or engaging in something that will enrich your life.