Annabelle: more trick than treat

by Mark Burger

The success last year of The Conjuring, both critical and financial, made a follow-up inevitable, but Annabelle, a spin-off/prequel, feels like something hurriedly hustled together to milk the marketplace this Halloween.

Aside from producer James Wan who directed the earlier film, cinematographer John R. Leonetti (upped to director here), and the titular antique doll, Annabelle is but a pale, pallid shadow of its predecessor.

The doll, which comes into possession of the blandly expectant couple Annabelle Wallis (yes, that’s her name) and Ward Horton, is itself possessed by the spirit of a murderous and recently deceased member of a Satanic cult whose name was also Annabelle. See how this works?

Actually, the doll becomes fairly incidental to the pedantic proceedings once it’s been filmed from every spooky angle, which doesn’t take very long. As might be expected, the doll also spends quality time in the creakiest rocking chair in recent screen history. (Gee, is someone referencing The Amityville Horror or even Beyond the Door?) There are a couple of effective jolts, and the film at least looks professional, but the real killer is Gary Dauberman’s hackneyed script “” the sort in which an investigating detective, Eric Ladin, explains twice that “crazy people do crazy things.” Looking for entertainment here is tantamount to the same thing, even for the most die-hard horror fan.

Wallis is better than her material, Horton bears a remarkable resemblance to actor James Marsden, Tony Amendola (the obligatory priest) is a dead ringer for F. Murray Abraham, and Alfre Woodard (dignity intact) brings a misplaced touch of class to her role as a bookstore proprietor familiar with things spiritual. Even the doll looks bored after a while.

Annabelle seems to have Rosemary’s Baby on the brain. Not only is it set in 1970, two years after the Roman Polanski film was released, but there’s a direct reference to the Manson family, one of whose victims was Polanski’s actress wife Sharon Tate, and the principal couple is named Mia and John (Farrow and Cassavetes, anyone?). It’s a daunting and ultimately futile exercise to attempt comparison with what is still one of the true horror classics in screen history. To put it kindly, Annabelle doesn’t even come close. !

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