Directed by John R. Leonetti
There’s no doubt about it; the Annabelle doll was one of the creepiest parts of James Wan’s The Conjuring. The doll is just unsettling in appearance, and the ‘true’ back story documented by Ed and Lorraine Warren is the stuff of nightmares. It’s just too bad we didn’t get to see that particular tale. Instead we get a film detailing the origins of the Annabelle doll, and unfortunately it’s as perfectly mediocre as they come.
Annabelle starts off much like The Conjuring did with the only difference being that you don’t see the Warrens. This is a prequel to the prequel story introduced at the beginning of James Wan’s film. After those same characters from The Conjuring are introduced, we go further back in time and meet the single most vanilla couple in history, Mia and John, played by Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton, respectively. They’re your traditional married couple getting ready to usher a new baby into the world. Mia is a collector of dolls, and as a surprise gift John buys her the last in a line of figures she’s been collecting. I don’t think I have to tell you what doll that ends up being.
Without giving away any spoilers, let’s just say that something horrific happens to their next-door neighbors, and as a result something equally as horrific happens to them, which leads to an evil spirit inhabiting the new doll’s body. From there it’s a series of sometimes entertaining events, leading up to the moment in which Annabelle goes up for sale and is bought by the mother of one of the women being interviewed at the start of both The Conjuring and Annabelle.
The film has lots of problems stemming from the leads themselves, who have next to no chemistry and just aren’t that likable. This is only exacerbated by the fact that Annabelle is home to some giant-sized pacing issues. I kept waiting for the film to get going, but it was locked solidly in neutral. Anytime you look at your watch during a movie… well, that’s just not a good sign.
Too many things and characters are introduced that go nowhere with absolutely no payoff. From noisy neighbors to random children to pointless research surrounding demonology/satanism, nothing is ever explained. Actually, each of those aforementioned things ends up being as meaningless as could be. Why even bother? It all feels like padding to get to the 90-minute mark.
As for Annabelle herself (itself?), honestly, she really doesn’t do anything. The worst thing she does is somehow being responsible for turning the stove on. It feels like the doll is playing second fiddle in a movie with her own name as the title. Don’t get me wrong; no one wants to see her running around like Chucky, but other than sitting there looking creepy, she’s just a glorified plot device who was far more menacing in The Conjuring with a tenth of the screen time.
There are a few bits throughout that are interesting and at times cool, but sadly, the best moment is ruined in the trailer and TV spots. To make matters even worse, the ending of the film is needlessly preachy. Yes, we’re dealing with something demonic, but you should show and not tell. If the movie makes you want to go to church (i.e., The Exorcist), then it has done its job. If it’s straight-up telling you to go to church, then it hasn’t.
Annabelle is a true letdown for fans of The Conjuring and serves as a stamped out of the mold prequel to the prequel story that we should have gotten in the first place. If not for the success of The Conjuring, this could easily have been a direct-to-video sequel. Both Wan’s film and the actual doll and its story deserve better. At the end of the day Annabelle is not a bad movie… it’s just not a very good one.