It’s 1969 and the Gordon family are expecting their first child. John (Eric Laden) decides to give his pregnant wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis) a present; a rare porcelain doll named Annabelle. She collects them and loves the addition. But after a horrific home invasion a few days later that ends in bloodshed, supernatural occurrences start to plague the family. Mia struggles to deal with the strange apparitions and soon realises that it all channels through one object… the Annabelle doll.
The Conjuring was easily one of the best horror movies of the past few decades… a wonderfully immersive throwback to the 70s golden era when horror, and specifically ‘haunted house’ horror, really came into its own. The opening of the film featured a creepy porcelain doll that struck a chord with audiences the world over so it’s of little surprise that we now see an Annabelle film surface.
Acting as a prequel, Annabelle tells the fictionalized story of how the demonic spirit became attached to the doll in the first place. Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real-life paranormal investigators who featured in The Conjuring, have stated on numerous occasions that the real-life Annabelle doll was a particularly dangerous and disruptive entity. So this film creates a back-story to this. Given how scary the real-life story is and how The Conjuring utilised it to great effect, it comes as a bit of a disappointment to see Annabelle the film rely a little too much on tried and tested cliché.
There are the prerequisite scares that feature loud noises and things popping out at you, but the majority of modern horror seems to adopt this approach now and that’s fine to a certain degree. It’s the story that could have done with being a little bit more creative and experimental. There are 3 amazing scares in the film, one that takes place in the basement of an apartment building that really uses light and dark well. Then there’s a scene involving the Annabelle doll rising up (even though it borrows a quintessential scare from Insidious) and finally a scene involving a ghostly girl running towards a door. All are very well orchestrated and leave you a bit breathless.
The cast are great too with Eric Laden and particularly Annabelle Wallis doing very well here. Wallis gives the film its strong emotional pull and her struggle with the demon is particularly compelling to watch as she struggles to project her child. Brian Howe, Tony Amendola and Alfre Woodard lend considerable support too.
Annabelle is an entertaining, by-the-numbers horror that provides a few genuine ‘jump out of your skin’ moments. The story is quite pedestrian, especially given how creative The Conjuring was. But if you can take it on face value, Annabelle still provides a decent night’s fright.