Creepy doll movies are the kick in the nuts of the horror genre. They’re a cheap shot, obviously, but they’re easy to pull off and undeniably effective. All a filmmaker has to do to satisfy their audience is get themselves a creepy doll and have them do creepy things on camera. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
The new movie Annabelle gets that first part right, but it seemingly forgets all about the second. The title character, an undeniably eerie moppet if ever there was one, spends most of the movie sitting in a chair while ghosts turn on the radio and make popcorn. Run! Run for your lives! And don’t forget to ask for your money back on the way out!
This prequel to The Conjuring, one of the classiest and scariest films of the modern horror cycle, is the untold story of Annabelle, the demonic doll that paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren kept under lock and key in the previous movie. The implication was that Annabelle was the most horrific trinket in their extensive museum of horrors, an assumption that this movie spends 98 minutes actively disproving. It’s a generic and poorly written haunted house tale that just happens to have a doll in it. What a waste.
Related: The 11 Creepiest Creepy Doll Movies
The problems start right away, when the film introduces us to Mia and John (Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton), who are the world’s most boring people. He’s a doctor and she’s pregnant. He has no outside interests and she spends her time sewing things we never see and collecting dolls she never talks about. They have one argument in the movie, in which John idly muses that being a parent might be difficult and Mia responds by saying she feels feelings about that. Gone Girl it is not.
In fact, these two are so stultifyingly bland that one assumes they are destined to die in the first act, setting the stage for other, more interesting characters to react to their demise. It would also be reasonable to assume that their banality must hide darker secrets – in particular, Ward Horton gives such a one-note performance it seems like he surely MUST be hiding something – but that would be giving Annabelle too much credit. Eventually you realize that we’re stuck with two automatons for the entire movie, and that John R. Leonetti’s film will spend its entire running time startling its protagonists instead of scaring the audience.
Cultists go on a killing spree in their neighborhood, and one of them – named “Annabelle” – bleeds out onto one of Mia’s rarest and most expensive dolls. From that point onward, strange things befall their household. The TV goes on the fritz. The burners on the stove activate when no one’s around. The record player can’t be turned off. Did I write “Run! Run for your lives!” yet? Because wow, that’s all this movie has until the second half, when broader horror clichés emerge, and the basic laws of geography and common sense fly out the window. Someone is injured in Santa Monica and immediately taken to a hospital in Pasadena, even though there is no way to get to Pasadena without driving past another major hospital on the way. Maybe ambulance drivers got paid by the mile in the 1960s.
Great horror movies exist to exploit our anxieties. Adequate horror movies exist to shock and repel us with uncomfortable ideas and imagery. Annabelle exists to capitalize on an earlier, superior movie by mimicking its most superficial aspects – the period setting, the creepy doll, vague musings on God and the Devil – and ignoring all the personality and grim paranoia that made it so distinctive in the first place. Annabelle boasts a couple of effective “boo” scares – there are so many that a few were bound to land by default – but the only “boo” that matters is the one you’ll yell at the screen after this thudding, laughable bore finally cuts to the credits.