D-list director John R. Leonetti (The Butterfly Effect 2) throws everything but the kitchen sink into this prequel to last year’s inexplicable horror hit The Conjuring. Doors close by themselves. Music swells suddenly for no reason. A sewing machine turns itself on in the middle of the night requiring a character to get out of bed and turn it off.
Which, I have to say, really smacks more of inconvenience than terror in my book. Lots of threadbare genre tropes are deployed in the course of this meatheaded money grab. The bottom line? That kitchen sink probably would have proven scarier than most of them. Hey, the garbage disposal could’ve turned itself on in the middle of the night.
Certainly that’s where Annabelle belongs. There’s barely an engaging, much less original, minute in this derivative drivel about a California couple whose lives are turned upside down in 1969 by the sorts of events you’ve seen turn lives upside down in far better films countless times before. It all begins with one of the most ridiculous coincidences in movie history:
Medical student John Form (the affordable Ward Horton) and his pregnant wife Mia (budget-friendly Annabelle Wallis) catch a news report concerning the Manson Family murders on their TV before turning in one night and guess what happens next. Yup, a bunch of satanic hippies break in and assault them. What are the odds?
Luckily John and Mia survive and the baby girl, whom they name Leah, is born soon afterwards showing no sign of trauma. The violence did leave its mark on another of the home’s occupants though. To the extent it’s about anything, the movie is about how a satanic hippie girl was shot to death by police while slumped over one of the hideous dolls in Mia’s never-explained hideous doll collection in such a way that a drop of her satanic blood drips into the eye socket of the collection’s most hideous doll and turns it evil.
You know Annabelle’s evil because, well, in addition to being hideous (where’d they buy this thing anyway-Demonic Dolls “R” Us?), she now just happens to be nearby whenever something that’s supposed to be horrifying happens. Prepare yourself, for example, for the supernatural shock of your life when Mia walks into the baby’s room one day and-ready?-the doll’s sitting in a rocking chair…AND IT’S ROCKING!
After a couple of hair raising incidents like that, her husband throws Annabelle away in an outdoor garbage can but-can you take another otherworldly shock so soon?-it later REAPPEARS IN THE HOUSE! Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Leonetti’s film ultimately chronicles a contest that’s not so much between good and evil as between evil and unbelievable stupidity.
Even after John and Mia know the doll is the devil’s plaything, they not only still keep it with the other dolls in the child’s room but place it on a shelf directly overlooking the crib. It’s a miracle this toy doesn’t take out the entire family. The couple does everything it possibly can to help it. Eventually you almost root for the hideous thing because mom and dad are simply too stupid to live.
I alluded earlier to the fact that the film stars mostly unknowns. It was made for next to nothing. So here’s where things actually do get frightening: More gratuitous and originality-free follow ups are guaranteed completely due to the phenomenon of the global box office. These days a movie doesn’t need to do well in the states to make a killing. The ticket line stretches around the planet.
It’s as though Hollywood has a license to print money. A movie that draws a so-so crowd in dozens of counties today is the same thing, where its studio’s concerned, as a movie that sold out from coast to coast here a couple of decades ago. Flops make people multimillionaires every day.
So the next time you watch something as half-assed as Annabelle and find yourself thinking “Gee, it’s almost as though nobody even tried,” you’ll understand exactly why nobody did. In the movie business today there’s no reason to knock yourself out. Not a reason in the world.