ANNABELLE (4 out of 10) – Directed by John R. Leonetti; written by Gary Dauberman; starring Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard and Tony Amendola; rated R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and horror; in wide release October 3, 2014; running time: 98 minutes.
Last year’s “The Conjuring” proved that dread alone can be powerful enough to garner a movie an “R” rating even with the lack of blood and guts that are commonplace in most horror films. The Annabelle doll in that film was definitely one of the creepiest things about it and resonated enough with audiences that this prequel was pretty much guaranteed the moment the first film was released. Unfortunately, “Annabelle” has none of the mystery or fear that “The Conjuring” had and relies too much on lazy, jump scares instead of being truly frightening.
“Annabelle” opens in 1971 with married couple Mia and John about to welcome the birth of their first child. As a surprise gift for Mia, John purchases her the Annabelle doll to complete her collection and help decorate the nursery. Soon after, they are attacked by a pair of Manson-esque cult members, one of whom is killed in the process of the home invasion and the other kills herself while working some kind of ritual on the Annabelle doll. Mia nearly loses the baby, and is forced on bed rest when strange things begin to happen to her — everything from noises that go “bump” in the night to appliances magically turning themselves on. Convinced that it has something to do with Annabelle, she (wisely) has her husband throw it away before they move only to discover it has somehow made the journey with them in one of the moving boxes. And because people in horror movies make stupid decisions, Mia changes her mind and decides to keep it. Of course, the hauntings continue and get increasingly worse as Mia comes to learn that a demon was summoned and linked to Annabelle and is desperate to attain the soul of her baby daughter as a conduit into our world.
“Annabelle” has all the ingredients to be a truly horrifying movie, but it never really follows through on any one of those things that would make it a classic. Most people (myself included) have somewhat of a phobia of dolls, and Annabelle looks insanely creepy, so why wouldn’t the writer and director want to take advantage of that? It’s not that I was expecting Annabelle to wander around like Chucky, but had she kept showing up in random places or suddenly being at the scene of something screwed up that had happened, it would have been extremely effective. Instead, though, we get lots of close-ups or random shots of her sitting in a chair, on a shelf, etc. while ominous music plays. That’s not frightening, it’s boring and is a complete waste of the best part of the film.
My biggest pet peeve, though, is the movie’s use of loud sounds to get jump-scares. I’m fine with the occasional jump-scare, especially in slasher films because it goes along with what’s taking place in the movie. What I object to is when a film changes scenes abruptly with an incredibly loud noise included for no reason other than to scare the audience when there was no logical scare there. Case in point, in “Annabelle”, there’s a moment when there’s an extreme closeup on the doll, followed by an almost deafening crack of thunder while it cuts to a different scene. Did people jump? Yes. Was it stupid and unnecessary? Yes, and all it accomplished was dragging me out of the movie.
There is a great little horror movie hidden in there somewhere, though, which makes it all the more frustrating to watch. There are legitimately frightening scenes and moments here that really do evoke true fear, but each one was dampened by the direction the filmmakers decided to go. It was all build-up, build-up build-up with no payoff which just led to horror movie blue-balls.
So if you’re looking for something to scratch that scary movie itch this weekend, you would do much better to stay at home and watch “The Conjuring”, “Evil Dead” or basically anything other than “Annabelle”, which is sad because it had the potential to be something truly amazing and frightening. Instead, it falls flat and fails to deliver on the promises it made in the trailers.