One of my favorite horror movie from recent years was 2013’s “The Conjuring”. The film was a huge success banking close to $320 million at the box office. Well obviously Hollywood wasn’t going to let that kind of success rest with just one movie. A proper sequel is scheduled for a 2016 release but in the meantime we’ve been given “Annabelle”, a prequel to “The Conjuring” and potentially a new spin-off franchise. Much like “The Conjuring”, “Annabelle” was a huge box office success raking in over $255 million against its small $6.5 million budget.
“Annabelle” starts with the exact same opening scene that we see in “The Conjuring”. It’s 1970 and three young people are telling the Warrens about their terrifying experience with a doll they believed to be possessed. The film then moves back one year and follows a handsome young couple, John and Mia Form (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis). They live in a nice neighborhood in Santa Monica, California and are expecting their first child. John surprises Mia with a doll she has wanted for their nursery. Apparently Mia has a weird taste in dolls because this thing is the ugliest and creepiest looking doll you’ll see.
One night Mia is awoken by screams from their neighbor’s home. While John is checking it out a man and a crazed woman holding the doll attacks Mia. The police show up and kill the man while the woman locks herself in the nursery and commits suicide while cradling the doll in her arms. As a result of the traumatic event and some subsequent unexplained phenomena, Mia asks John to get rid of the doll. The couple have a healthy little girl named Leah, leave their troubling Santa Monica home, and move to Pasadena to start over. But while unpacking guess what they find? Yep, it’s that creepy doll that John had thrown away and as you can guess a series of terrifying occurrences follow.
“Annabelle” becomes a fairly standard mix of haunted house and possession horror. It’s pretty slow moving and it takes some time to get rolling. But when the attempted scares do come they are your garden variety creaking doors, flickering lights, and frightening figures lurking in the shadows. There are a small handful of unsettling moments but for the most part “Annabelle” just doesn’t have the frights I was hoping for. It meanders a bit too much and none of its horror elements feel original. And perhaps the biggest problem – they just aren’t that scary.
Another shortcoming is tied to the performances. I’m not a bit familiar with Annabelle Wallis or Ward Horton but neither offer much in terms of charisma. It’s not that their performances are bad. They just feel terribly generic and by-the-books. Horton and Wallis are definitely likable and they are a very attractive couple, but their relationship never feels authentic. For me there was always a constant reminder that their relationship was scripted. Again not bad performances but pretty dry and buttoned up.
“Annabelle” often teases us with what it potentially could have been. It lays out a promising premise but it never goes beyond the routine run-of-the-mill horror flick that we have seen over and over. I loved “The Conjuring” and I like the idea of having tie-ins which expand the concept. But “Annabelle” doesn’t get the job done and if it does become a franchise, I can’t see myself investing much of my time in it. Simply put, regardless of its intentions and its potential, the film doesn’t do enough. That’s a real shame.