The Conjuring was released a couple of years ago and was a fairly uninspiring horror movie (based on the same real life story that would inspire the Amityville Horror).
At the beginning of The Conjuring, there is a little prelude about a china doll called Annabelle. That prelude is used to set up the concept of conduits, demonic influence and the paranormal investigation team.
That small sequence was really creepy and very effective, more so than the actual film. And so it doesn’t surprise me that they decided to make a prequel based on it.
Annabelle opens with the same prelude from The Conjuring. Set the year before that scene, this film shows how Annabelle came to become a conduit for a demon and how it terrorised a suburban family.
As always, I will keep my plot summary brief as I don’t like to give away too much: Ed and Lorraine Warren are newlyweds expecting their first child. Lorraine is a collector of china dolls and Ed has gone to great expense to find one of a set she is missing, which takes centre place in the collection.
There is some stuff about cults, a ritual, conjuring a demon, possession, all which result in the devil’s doll. Then there is the usual running around, seeing things through the corner of your eye, fast cuts and people deliberately turning around really slowly… look, if you’ve seen any number of horror movies in the last 40 years (man, is The Exorcist really that old?), there’s nothing new here. It’s slow paced, so as to build tension and atmosphere and has its fair share of ‘jump scares’… you know the drill.
Say what you will about the ‘found footage phenomenon’, at least Paranormal Activity injected some creativity into the horror genre (which of course was aped and then suffered ‘sequelitis’ to the point where it was no longer creative).
There are a few things which make this film stand out from its peers (and notably more interesting than its parent film). For starters, Annabelle herself. Now, I don’t like china dolls. I think they are inherently creepy. Presumably I am not alone in this and therefore that’s why they made a china doll an evil doll of evil. The pre-demon version of Annabelle is pretty terrifying and the post-demon version is a nightmare come to life. So in that sense, good show prop department!
Also, there are a couple of genuinely creepy scenes: the whole basement sequence for instance (which is only ruined by the director by breaking the cardinal rule of ‘never reveal the face of the monster, because it can never be worse than the imagination’) and any time the doll is just on screen, being creepy (there was only one moment I called ‘bullshit’ and that was very late in the movie, they otherwise restrain themselves from the doll doing anything other than looking really wrong).
The ending, to be blunt, is so overwhelming telegraphed I am sure people who have never even seen a horror movie could figure it out.
I’m not a fan of the horror genre because I find it creatively moribund. Very much like it’s cousin, the slasher movie, it is tired and worn with little new to offer.
And, like comedy, it is a very subjective experience, so what one person finds scary, another finds laughable. For instance, I think that The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Paranormal Activity are great films, both very creepy. Friends of mine found the Mothman Prophecy to be terrifying but I only thought it was a good film, not particularly scary at all.
To me, The Conjuring was fairly representative of modern horror and didn’t really offer anything new. The prequel, Annabelle, is much the same, only I find china dolls to be freaky and so I was a bit creeped out at times, possibly more than I should have.
I can’t say I particularly recommend this film. Like its peers, it isn’t particularly original or scary but it is competently made and the direction is very good. The performances are good and really, there’s nothing wrong with this movie, if you haven’t watched any of the major horror movies of the last 40 years.
That said, if you find china dolls to be creepy and fancy a bit of a scare, you could do a lot worse than this.
TL:DR “Competently made, not particularly original horror movie about a possessed china doll. The china doll really is the scariest thing about it.”