I went into 2013’s The Conjuring with very low expectations. The director, James Wan, had previously left a bad taste in my mouth. I was happy to admit, though, that I left that film impressed. It was obvious that we were going to get a sequel, but first up is this prequel, telling the story of the doll that is very briefly shown in the Warren’s museum.
Annabelle reveals how this not-so-pretty doll becomes possessed by a demon and ultimately ends up in the hands of a nurse who the Warrens interviewed and helped exorcise. A happily married couple is expecting their first child. The wife, Mia, brings home a doll that she had been eyeing in the store window. A satanic cult breaks into their house, and after some blood is shed on the doll and Mia ends up being put on bed rest, some crazy things start to happen.
Let me be clear about my viewing experience: I saw Annabelle in an empty theatre. With that kind of setting, there were a few good, creepy moments, but even then it was nowhere near the experience I had with The Conjuring, which had a decent crowd when I saw it in the theatre.
It’s clear that Wan isn’t directing Annabelle, and I guess I shouldn’t have expected much from the director of Mortal Kombat 2 and The Butterfly Effect 2. The film is competently shot, and there are a few good scenes (ones involving a cult attack, an elevator, and a crayon), but the rest of the time, nothing really happens. There’s no creeping build of dread. The doll rarely moves around, and the entire back-story of the doll is changed, but I do give the studio credit for not including the “based on a true story” tag anywhere in the film.
Annabelle Wallis is top notch in the role of Mia (an obvious homage to Rosemary’s Baby). She conveys fear and confusion, and really brings it when the CGI scares require her to actually act. I’d never heard of her before, much like rest of the cast who just kind of go through the motions, but thankfully they are just fluff as Mia gets about 95% of the screen time alone.
When the scares and creepy moments aren’t happening, the film just drags on and becomes so mundane that I had to fight off sleep. There’s no build for anything; it’s just either a scare sequence, or a bunch of chatty bits. The film’s biggest flaw is its ending which relies solely on a “deus ex machina”, and left a bad taste in my mouth.
One part Paranormal Activty, and one part Rosemary’s Baby, Annabelle failed to leave any lasting impressions on me. It’s not a terrible film by any means, and when director John R. Leonetti gets it right, he knocks it out of the ballpark. With that said, though, this prequel isn’t needed, and despite a solo viewing experience in a big, empty, dark theatre, I was rarely creeped out. It’s a shame that Annabelle just misses the mark because it really could have been worth checking out.