An average kind of horror story, “Annabelle” is a prequel to the far superior “The Conjuring” from last year.
Its origins lay in such movies as “Puppetmaster” and even the “Child’s Play” series with Chucky. There also are strong influences from “The Omen” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”
The movie is set during the time when the slayings of Charles Manson and his “family” were making headlines. In fact, we see actual footage of this on televisions within the film.
Ward Horton (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) plays John, a young medical student whose wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis — nice first-name coincidence — of television’s “The Tudors”) has a large doll collection. John adds to it with a rare antique doll after he and Mia have an argument. Mia has longed to own this doll for years, and now she proudly places it with the others.
The couple is friendly with some neighbors who are connected to a ghastly occurrence that threatens both John and Mia, until the police arrive, barely in the nick of time. A woman named Annabelle dies in the nursery that they have prepared for their baby, with the “new” doll in her arms.
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Now Annabelle has become a sort of doorway for demons, although at first only Mia realizes something is wrong. She hears strange noises, experiences bizarre “accidents,” begins to realize that everything is not OK — and tries in vain to convince her husband of that.
Horror aficionados have seen a lot of this kind of thing before:
- There’s a priest (Tony Amendola, television’s “Once Upon a Time”) who understands the danger the couple may face.
- Doors slam and lock by themselves.
- Lights flicker and electronic devices come to life by themselves.
- The doll shows up in places it doesn’t belong.
Most of these situations work fairly well, although they won’t be unexpected if you’ve seen previous horror movies. There are a couple of scenes that are especially effective: One takes place in a dark basement — a situation most of us have been in at one time or another — and there's another involving a baby and falling books.
The names of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren are invoked here in a postscript at the end of the movie. There really is an allegedly haunted doll — a Raggedy Ann doll, in fact — in the Warrens’ collection, but what you see here is mostly fiction. If you’d like to read about the real story, it's at www.warrens.net/Annabelle.html.
Their story is much more hair-raising than this fictional account.