★★★ out of ★★★★★
Yes. Dolls are creepy. You know this. We know this. They just have a creep factor to them that’s somewhat unexplainable. Dolls also have some kind and gentle qualities too, but these attributes are quickly overridden by a hidden and subversive darkness that hangs right under the surface of their judgmental stare. Annabelle has that in spades. The look, the tarnish, the crooked hands, and the weirdly human eyes. But that’s also kind of the problem with Annabelle — the fact that there is no kindness and grace. Her exterior is rough, rugged, and raw, and it’s safe to say that no doll maker in the history of doll makers would ever purposefully create something so inherently evil looking.
But they did.
Directed by John Leonetti, Annabelle is from 2014 and it’s the second film in the ever-expanding Conjuring-universe. While it’s the second film in the Conjure-verse, it’s really a prequel to 2013’s Conjuring — the one that started it all. Annabelle follows Dr. John Form (Ward Horton) and his wife Mia (weirdly played by ANNABELLE Wallis) a well-meaning, church-going, young and upwardly mobile couple in the late 1960s who are trying to thread the cultural needle of a rapidly changing societal makeup. Mia is pregnant and Dr. Form, with his demanding medical practice, is doing everything he can to make his young bride happy and contented. Mia’s also an amateur doll collector and Dr. Form decides to buy her a rare, but highly peculiar doll, Annabelle. While there’s no real explanation about where he got it, why it’s collectible, or even its doll provenance, Mia’s happy and contented with the new addition to her doll congregation.
That night a low-budget Charles Manson and a singular, but freaky disciple, have a little garden variety Satanic ceremony with the next door neighbors. Dr. Form tries to break up the cult festivities which results in the Satanic hippies bringing the party to the Form’s house. Dr. Form tussles with the cultists but not before they slice in to Mia. On of the followers nabs Annabelle the doll and promptly commits suicide, but not before a small drop of blood creeps in to the doll’s eye socket. Beyond the fact that the doll is unexplainably creepy, it’s unclear if the director was implying that the blood from the suicidal cultist was somehow responsible to bringing Annabelle’s paranormal ways to life. But just put that aside for a moment.
Understandably traumatized by their run in with the Order of the Ram (…that’s apparently a real thing) and all sorts of other strange and freaky happenings, the Form family decides beat feet from Santa Monica and move to the docile confines of Pasadena. Apparently, if you dump the dolls in the trash and just head 25 miles inland the demons and spooks will be less inclined to follow you. But the Form family couldn’t be more wrong. The demon and Annabelle the doll follow them to their stylish, but strangely dark new apartment building.
As Mia begins to explore her new neighborhood the paranormal sightings only become more profound. She is quickly befriended by local bookseller, Evelyn (Alfre Woodard), who helps Mia to research and piece together the malevolence that’s followed her all the way from Santa Monica to Pasadena. Evelyn and Mia come to collectively learn that the cheap-o Charlie Manson and the Order of the Ram were indeed a Satanic cult that was trying to summon a demon so that the demon could claim a soul, but that the demon had to first be invited to take said soul. Demon rules are so confusing. After a little bit of coffee table exposition, Evelyn explains that she may have accidentally killed her daughter in a car accident years earlier, and she’s still atoning for this sin. Knowing the demon is bearing down on Dr. Form, Mia, the daughter Leah, and Evelyn, it’s clear that someone has either got to deal with Annabelle, or sacrifice themselves for the good of the team.
Director Leonetti employs some great use of 1960s products, TV shows, radio ads, music, and fashion — all the while throwing in some really great scares. Annabelle doesn’t lean to heavily on jump scares and really works to manufacture empathy for Dr. Form and Mia. The characters are nicely nuanced and largely pretty believable, but that doesn’t mean Annabelle is without fault. Annabelle, while largely inanimate (which is a good thing) doesn’t ever quite invoke that truly chilly feeling. The eyes don’t move, there’s no growl, extraordinary weirdness, or freaky movements. Annabelle does move at one point, but only to reveal a demon standing behind her as some off-putting puppeteer. As a whole Annabelle delivers some really solid scares, but there’s a pinch too much exposition left on the table regarding Annabelle’s satanic connection to the underworld — but we’re left to assume the Conjure-verse decided to save this hidden story for 2017’s Annabelle: Creation. Then again, maybe they didn’t because Annabelle 3 is now in production. OR, maybe, just maybe, this origin story will always be shrouded as a demonic doll mystery…
Annabelle is Rated R and available for streaming everywhere.
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