Serious Spoilers Ahead. For real, don’t read his if you have not seen it yet, or if you care at all about knowing details before you watch this movie. You have been warned. Also, this is a long response. You’ve also been warned of that.
You know what, I’m just going to put it out there. I liked this movie. I will likely watch it again when it comes out on DVD, and a second viewing may change my mind. But right now, as of a theatrical viewing, I thought it was worth the price of my ticket. in Annabelle, director John Leonetti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman offer a logical back story for the infamous doll. Even though this tale does not match any accounts I’ve ever read from the Warrens, the demonologists responsible from liberating her from public ownership, I thought this screenplay offered a sensible and interesting source for the way she became an object of evil. Even the tie in to real 1960’s cult activity, the most recognizable of which would be the Manson family murders, through the fictional Disciples of the Ram, was in my opinion a sensible choice and a neat way to tie in familiar historical events. In the film we follow a young couple named Mia and John, and their newborn daughter Leah. The previously un-tainted Annabelle doll was a part of Mia’s collection, and was a creepy but benign resident of the forthcoming baby’s nursery; until the blood of crazed cultist and daughter of Mia and John’s next door neighbor seeps into the doll’s eye socket during a drug addled attack on the neighborhood. Essentially, the doll become a conduit for the occultist’s proceedings. Naturally, by the time Mia and John figure this out, the demon has already set its gaze on young baby Leah’s soul.
Admittedly, Annabelle was a step down from The Conjuring, but not much of one. I’d say the only major problem with Annabelle was in it’s lack of subtlety, and even that was not so bad that I didn’t want to see what happened next. In particular, there are some moments when the jump scare is coming, and we know it, and it comes in a way that’s just been recycled from other movies in this line of paranormal films backed by the same producers (Insidious 1 & 2, Paranormal Activity, The Conjuring, Sinister, Dead Silence, etc). I’m primarily talking about that “let’s reveal the demon as he peeks down at us from the ceiling” angle. We saw this in Sinister, and The Conjuring, and maybe in some other places I’m forgetting. There was a brief moment when I thought this movie was going to rock the subtle spookiness; when Mia is trying to run away from the basement in her apartment complex. By this point in the film, we already know what is afoot, but Mia is still somewhat clueless. During this scene, we see Mia packing boxes into her storage space, when crying begins to emanate from what turns out to be an empty bloody baby blanket in a vintage pram. Behind this already unnerving imagery we see, for the first time, the silhouette of the demon himself, and he looks great! His skin is pitch black, and he has these massive horns. Honestly, it looks a lot like vintage devil or krampus artwork, come to life. At any rate, Mia has the appropriate reaction and runs for the elevator…which won’t work but continues to open its door to reveal the basement over and over. Mia is smart enough to make a break from the stair well, and just when she turns to look back, we see it. The demon is crouched there at the foot of the stairs, motionless. It’s perfectly suspenseful, and even has me feeling a bit leery of my own staircase. Unfortunately, this moment is ruined whenever, to quote my friend Sara, the demon “goes all Nightcrawler style,” and suddenly pops down from the ceiling. Why? Why did they ruin it?!
My only other complaint here really are devices used for “the monkey” viewers, who need help putting the pieces together. Instead of trusting us to recognize the face of the girl in a police photograph as the spectral image Mia saw earlier in the movie, the editor cut in a quick flashback a la CSI. Instead of putting subtle set pieces out in the book store, they make sure we see not once, but twice, the cover of a old hardback book sporting a creepy title about the devil. And finally, when Mia looks through the eye hole of her door, instead of just leaving the sufficiently scary back of what we know is not really the family priest turned away, because we’ve seen that he has already been in an accident as a result of taking the doll from the house; Leonetti adds a cut shot to the front of Father Perez’s face, so we can see that he has crazy eyes, and we can hear him yell scripture in a demonic voice. Stupid. I thought this moment was pretty tense until it went too far. Basically, I’d like for the crew that made this film to learn that sometimes what we don’t see is what’s the scariest.
All that complaining aside, I really did enjoy the experience of watching this film. If I forget about the scenes that show too much, there are still a lot of really great moments. I have to say that I cannot recall a movie in which the creepy ghost/demon figure runs straight at the victim. That was a nice touch. Also, I was so happy that the Annabelle doll never moves of its own volition. I really thought this was going to happen, with Child’s Play like results, but luckily, any time the doll moves it’s because the demon is actually behind it, moving it from the shadows where we can barely see him. But, we can see him just enough. The movie also sticks to some real descriptions of demonic entities given by the Warrens. In particular, the creature will not disclose its name, and appears as an obscure darkness. Also, it is made clear that the demon has attached itself to John and Mia, not their home, and is working through the conduit of the Annabelle doll, which is a detail that a lot of paranormal movies leave out making it seem like a house is cursed, or that destroying an object can stop the oppression. The lighting and tone of the film are also great, and I have to give a big kudos to the costume designer, who put Mia in those era perfect, lime green, high-high waisted pants.
One last thing, this probably isn’t a movie for new mothers. There is one moment in particular that I won’t reveal, that will have you clutching your little one, thankful that you aren’t the poor family in this film.
Good news: the best scenes aren’t in the trailer: