If you’re into horror movies, you’ve probably seen one about a killer doll before. From classics like Child’s Play and Dolls (so underrated, give it a try!) to not-so-classics like every sequel to Child’s Play and Demonic Toys, I think there’s more killer doll movies in the world than there are actual dolls. But Hollywood was convinced that we needed another one, and so Annabelle was born. The final verdict? You could do worse, but there’s not really much reason to watch it.
Annabelle paints itself as a prequel to 2013’s wildly popular (and much better) The Conjuring, crafting an entire narrative around the creepy doll that received five minutes of screen time in that film. It takes place in the “satanic panic” era of the 1960s; a pregnant woman and her husband survive a home invasion by a pair of occultists, only to be haunted by strange occurrences and semi-regular visits by a demon. In a completely expected turn of events, these occurrences have to do with the titular doll. Ruh-roh!
The film’s got a pretty simple recipe: take two parts Rosemary’s Baby, three parts Insidious, and dashes of Child’s Play and The Conjuring, and voila, you have yourself a heaping helping of Annabelle. Obviously, the whole thing is lacking in originality. The screenplay (written by Gary Dauberman, whose only past experience involves Sci-Fi Channel originals) is a snoozefest, nicking scares and character types from far superior films. Unless you’re completely new to the genre, you won’t see anything surprising here.
But that doesn’t mean the film’s an absolute failure. Director John Leonetti served as the cinematographer for Insidious (1 & 2) and The Conjuring, and he copies the same creepy atmosphere he perfected in those films in Annabelle. And even if the film does fall back on the trappings of jump scares far too often, there are actually a number of effective suspense moments here and there. The home invasion near the beginning of the film is very well-done, there’s an elevator scene I give two thumbs up, and some perfectly done “gotcha!” moments.
Unfortunately, you just have to sit through a lot of tripe to get to them. None of the actors deliver their badly written lines with any gusto, the supporting characters include a priest and a helpful, supernaturally-inclined neighbor (never seen either of those before!), and the Annabelle doll really doesn’t even do anything other than look kind of creepy. It also repeats the large sin Insidious committed a few years back by creating a stupid-looking demon monster and not keeping it in the shadows, ruining any scares it almost created. Seriously, horror directors, if you don’t have the budget to make your monster any sort of scary, just don’t show the monster at all.
So, in the end, there’s just not a whole lot to say about Annabelle. It serves its purpose, and it’s honestly better than I thought it would be. But the X-factor The Conjuring and Insidious delivered in spades is almost completely absent here, and we’re left with a web of clichés that we’ve all seen time and time again. You won’t necessarily hate Annabelle while you watch it, but that doesn’t mean you’ll remember it the next morning.
Zach Johnson can be reached at email@example.com, or on his Twitter page, @zachandforth.