When it was announced that there would be a sequel to The Conjuring, most people expected it to be a roundabout remake of The Amityville Horror, due to the fact that it is the most famous case dealing with The Warrens (who share the coveted role of “Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film”). Instead, the sequel is actually a prequel, telling the story of Annabelle, the creepy-looking doll that *spoiler alert*, turns out to be evil. While the doll wasn’t a huge focus of The Conjuring, it certainly had an impact with audiences, but did that alone warrant the explanation of her backstory?
Annabelle centers on a newlywed couple, Mia (Annabelle Willis; Hello Carter, Snow White and the Huntsman) and John (Ward Horton; Royal Pains, Letting Go), who are trying to live a normal life the early 70’s. As a present, John decides to give Mia the (who would soon be known as) Annabelle doll. After being attacked by a couple of cult members, Mia feels rather uneasy in the house, being bedridden until the end of her pregnancy, and notices that her new doll is never in the same place she left her. Even after moving to a new location, strange things continue to happen, meaning that it may not have been the house that was being haunted.
The first act of Annabelle does a good job at setting things up and drawing you in. However, as the movie keeps going, everything gets drawn out with a lot of filler that adds nothing to the movie. Even at a runtime of 98 minutes, the movie overstays its welcome. When it comes to the ending of the movie, it spits in the face of any kind of message that it was trying to tell in the first place. It tried to give a conclusion that would please mass audiences, but instead it just takes away any emotional impact that it may have given the audience.
What made The Conjuring a stand-out horror film is not present at all in Annabelle. Most of the scares in The Conjuring were well earned, and there was an added creep-factor knowing that most of them were practical effects. In Annabelle, it was mostly filled with jump scares, most of which were pretty cheap. It was also obvious that that there was plenty of CG that went into these scenes.
There are a handful of scares that prove effective, but they only highlight the majority of the movie that is genuinely scary.
While the actors did deliver good performances, the characters of the story didn’t really carry much weight. In the beginning, you feel tension for Mia because she is pregnant, but as soon as the baby is out, all of that suspense is gone. The chemistry between Mia and John is pretty good however, and gives you the feeling that they are in love. The big problem here is that the movie does too much shorthand to give you a genuine connection with any of the characters.
It sounds like a contradicting statement, but the film seems to be trying too hard to scare the audience, but is doing so in the laziest way possible. Besides the vast amount of jump scares, it seems to take a lot of tricks from the Paranormal Activity playbook. The camera focuses a lot on the doll or still locations without a payoff. There is also a moment where Mia goes into the elevator, and it cuts to what is reminiscing of hidden camera shots out of found footage films. It’s a lame cheat to prepare the audience for something scary that was ultimately unnecessary.
As a prequel to The Conjuring, it fails miserably. However, to defend Annabelle for a second, The Conjuring is a difficult one to follow up with. While this sequel wasn’t made by the same directors or writers, it’s a continuing story, which leaves it wide open for comparison. Even on its own, Annabelle still isn’t that good of a movie. It honestly feels like a straight-to-DVD Asylum film. It feels rushed, incomplete, and didn’t need to be connected with this franchise.
Annabelle is for the people who came out of The Conjuring and said “that wasn’t scary at all”. It’s for an audience that just want to be scared, and it doesn’t matter if it’s cheap. While there are some good performances from the cast, and a few really stand out scares, it doesn’t live up to the impact of the first film. Even on its own, it feels played out and dull. If you’re just looking for a cheap fun scare, you’ll definitely get your fix. If you’re a fan of The Conjuring, it’s better to just skip the film and look up the actual history of the Annabelle doll.