Were they out of Mr. Potato Heads? “Annabelle”

October 4, 2014


James Wan’s supernatural horror films—Insidious, Insidious Chapter 2,  and The Conjuringare basically the cinematic equivalent of popcorn: reasonably enjoyable as distraction food, but mostly air and empty calories. Not, in other words, very substantive. Annabelle, the latest installment in the Wan franchise isn’t even directed by Wan, but instead by his cinematographer John R. Leonetti. So whatever imprimatur Wan brings to his work is now run the Xerox machine, giving us a faded copy of a not-terribly bold-faced original. Basically, this is a film so rickety that it only works if you believe two normal, sane, stable adults to would by their newborn a baby a doll that looks as it was crafted by Satan himself.

Annabelle is a prequel or sorts to The Conjuring, and helps explain why the grotesque doll in that movie got so much play, when it meant bupkis to that movie’s plot (explanation: we needed a prequel, duh). In the early ‘70s John and Mia Gordon (Ward Horton and Anabelle Wallis) are a young, thoroughly ungroovy couple, newly married and newly pregnant. All seems well in their cozy, suburban California ranch house with John starting his hospital residency and Mia, um, sewing a lot.  As a housewarming gift, John surprises Mia with the central doll, which thrills Mia to death, because it completes a collection of the monstrosities she had decided to use to decorate the baby’s room. Apparently Mia wants to teach their child about soul-consuming terror at a young age.

Jesus, it's terrifying!

Jesus, it’s terrifying!

One night the neighbors are murdered in their beds by a couple of intruders that also attack Mia and John. Mia sustains a knife-wound to her belly before the local cops blow the perps out of their socks (because this was the ‘70s and we were totally okay with that). One of the perps—a woman we later learn is named Annabelle–dies holding the doll. Maybe because it resembles the dark master whose bidding she serves, or whatever.

Mia pulls through, and so does the baby, which is born healthy and named Leah. But they decide to move, because when two people have been gunned down in your house it really harshes that whole nesting buzz. They relocate to Pasadena, where they make precisely two friends: a Roman Catholic priest and a Magical Negro (Alfre Woodard)—both of which come in handy when the dolls starts going all bitchcakes on them.

And bitchcakes it does go with a combination of minor shocks like moving when no one is looking, and major ones like trying to burn the house down and throwing Mia around. And it goes like that. Credit to the leads, they did try to ditch the doll, but like the proverbial bad penny it’s not easy to get rid of.

Goddamn it, the things still there!

Goddamn it, the things still there!

Ultimately, they learn that the killers from the beginning of the film were members of a Satanic cult who need a soul to summon a demon. And to that end, the dead chick has sorta possessed the doll, and sometimes we see glimpses of her holding it.

Like most of Wan’s movies, Annabelle works as a jolt-delivery package, but less as a horror film. As deftly as Wan and his new protégé Leonetti are at serving up jump-scares, they’re both totally incapable of establishing a mood or dread. That makes their movies eminently forgettable. I’ve seen all of the aforementioned movies, but can barely recall a thing about them—save for the gay demon in Insidious.

It's like the thing is staring into my soul!

It’s like the thing is staring into my soul!

Truly scary horror films linger in the mind and disturb us long after the credits have rolled. That’s why they’re effective. One of my favorite horror films is the movie Session 9. Nothing happens in it that’s terribly original or horrifying (basically a lot of murders), but the movie builds such a curdling sense of terror that when the final scene hit, it’s like a dagger of ice through the spine because of the implications. The movie left me unsettled for a long time. Annabelle and its ilk made me jump, but vanished from memory the moment I left the theatre.



And really, who the fuck would react to that doll in any way except “Kill it! Kill it with fire!”

So that’s Annabelle. Skip it. Movies are expensive.


  1. So glad I read this. I was on the fence on seeing Annabelle in the theaters with Halloween season. Have you seen any worth while scary movies in the theaters this Halloween season?

    • Not really, but the month is young.

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