“Annabelle” Movie Review

     The recent glut of haunted house horror films that began with 2007's classic "Paranormal Activity" has seen a number of highs and lows over the last several years.  While that franchise has already spawned three sequels plus a spin off series, a number of "things that go bump in the night" type films have continued to hit the multiplex with mixed results.  One such film that raised the bar for the genre, perhaps even higher than "Paranormal Activity", was 2013's "The Conjuring", an unexpected summer scare fest that combined the best elements of films like "The Exorcist" with the true story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.  While "The Conjuring" chronicled just one of the Warren's many cases, I said at the time their extensive case history, visualized by the room in their home that contains various cursed artifacts and remains locked at all times, would certainly be the basis for a litany of sequels and/or origin stories.  One such item in the room was a demonized doll named "Annabelle", who makes a spooky and highly effective appearance at the beginning of "The Conjuring" and ends up in the possession of the Warren's before the story moves on to their next case.

     In what is not a surprise move, the studio determined the need to create an origin story for  "Annabelle" with "The Conjuring" director, James Wan, handing directing duties over to his cinematographer, John Leonetti.  An origin story set in the 1960s, "Annabelle" is unable to carry anything over from its brief appearance in "The Conjuring" that qualifies as scary and in fact, those brief 10 minutes hold significantly more shock value than the entire feature length origin story does.  Horror films are about execution and timing, neither of which "Annabelle" has, as it suffers from uninteresting characters, an all over the place plot, and scares manufactured from overused horror film cliches.  The film is completely devoid of anything remotely original and functions solely as a cash grab, taking advantage of the potential of the premise, but failing to delivery on all fronts.

     John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle Wallis) are a recently married couple preparing for the birth of their first child.  While decorating the nursery, John surprises Mia with a gift.  He presents to her a long white box and she already knows what it is, as she has been looking for it to complete her collection.  When she opens the box, inside is a hideous looking vintage doll which for the life of me, I can't understand what could possibly appeal to her about it.  At least “Good Guy” dolls looked like something worth owning before becoming possessed. They say horror films are about bad decisions and I suppose you can chalk up the decision to have this vile looking thing on a shelf overlooking the crib as the first of many miscalculations by the film's characters.

     Perhaps the most effective scene in the film begins when one night Mia is awakened by what she thinks is a scream coming from her neighbors house.  She rustles John out of a deep sleep and tells him what she heard, prompting him to get up and go investigate in pajamas with no weapon.  We see what he does visually, as he exits their home through an unlocked front door, goes next door, and enters the home of people he barely knows in a attempt to confirm his wife's claim because that's what dumb characters in these kinds of movies do.  As we also are aware, Mia is right and for some reason, she follows John out of the house and toward their neighbor's in her pajamas as well.  She seems intent on going into the dark residence, but John suddenly comes running out, covered in blood.  He tells her to call an ambulance for the people inside and she runs back home to do so.  Young people watching this will probably be terrified when they see Mia trying to call the police on a rotary phone, since it takes forever and we know she's not alone in the house.  Ultimately, a satanic cult group similar to Charles Manson has invited themselves in, forcing John and Mia into a life and death situation.  The end result of this scene insinuates that the blood of one of the cult members has spilled into the eye of Mia's prized doll, thus leading to the film's primary story.

     Leonetti uses basic horror conventions in an attempt to get scares out of the audience, bringing nothing to the table that is fresh or new.  When the camera goes tight on Mia using a sewing machine with her fingers dangerously close to the needle and her eyes half paying attention to the television, you already know she's gonna stick herself or why would Leonetti have his lens there in the first place?  For whatever reason, the demon within the doll wants Mia dead and waits for her husband to go to work each day before it decides to torment her.  Apparently, this demon thinks a really cool and inventive way to get the job done is to mysteriously turn on each burner on their electric stove and over pop a pan of "Jiffypop" until it sets on fire.  Of course, this is going on for several minutes with Mia in the next room and she doesn't notice anything until the kitchen is already on fire.  Wouldn't she have smelled the popcorn cooking and thought it to be odd?

     Because Mia becomes convinced the doll has something to do with what's going on, she has John throw the doll the away in a garbage can prior to the couple moving into an apartment building.  When they're unpacking at their new place, Mia finds the doll at the bottom of one of the boxes.  John says to Mia "I swear I threw that away!"  In perfect lame horror film character form, Mia takes the doll, now burnt, scarred and looking as ugly as ever, and places it on a shelf overlooking their new born child.  Rocket scientists these are not.  Of course, Mia continues to be tormented, so who do you call when you have a demon in the residence? A priest of course!   And this guy is really a piece of work! Aside from the usual religion versus hell  cliches, he decides taking the doll to the church would be the best course of action.  With it being a really ugly doll, he decides, while driving, to toss it from the front seat to the back seat where it is completely out of his view! So class, do you think this decision will prove to be a bad one?  This and several other ineffective scenes contribute to "Annabelle" being truly awful and unintentionally comedic.  There really is no need for the "Scary Movie" guys to waste time producing a parody since they can just cut and paste the scenes they want directly from the real thing. GRADE: D-