THEWRAP.COM The backstory of Annabelle, a porcelain doll who made her first appearance in "The Conjuring," is revealed in this horror film prequel.
THEWRAP.COM
The backstory of “Annabelle,” a porcelain doll who made her first appearance in “The Conjuring,” is revealed in this horror film’s prequel.

★★★☆☆

Positioned as both a prequel and a spinoff of the 2013 horror movie “The Conjuring,” “Annabelle” had high expectations to live up to. The movie focuses on the haunting of a very creepy–looking porcelain doll, which in reality played a small and generally insignificant part in “The Conjuring.” With the same directors as “The Conjuring,” “Annabelle” was predicted to feature plenty of scary scenes and have a fairly original plot.

The movie begins with the protagonist couple, John Gordon (Ward Horton) and his pregnant wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis), at a church sermon. They go home with their neighbors, Pete (Brian Howe) and Sharon (Kerry O’Malley) Higgins, and uncomfortably discuss the Gordons’ unborn daughter. It is then revealed that the Higgins’ daughter Annabelle (Tree O’Toole) had apparently disappeared two years ago to join a cult.

That night, the Gordons argue and joke with one another, depicting the nerves and love of a young and expecting couple. Wallis and Horton interact well on screen, establishing themselves as likable protagonists. As a gift, John presents Mia with the life-sized Annabelle doll, and we discover that Mia keeps an intricate collection of porcelain dolls. Classic horror film cinematography tactics are used here as the lens zooms in on Annabelle’s eerily wide smile while ominous music plays in the background, setting the premise for her haunting, as the naive couple goes to sleep. Unfortunately, the first night ended up being the most compelling part of the movie.

The next day, the gore commences. Scene after scene of violence fuses with complex plot twists involving Mia, the doll, her parents, and the Higgins family. The doll continues to haunt Mia in intensifying degrees, and for a time this sequence of events is entertaining.

The second half of the movie then takes a very predictable shape, as Mia stays home alone with her baby all day while being constantly tormented by evil spirits, and failing to realize the sinister nature of her doll. Inexplicably, her husband never seems to be at home, so Mia suffers alone and begins to doubt her own sanity. This part of the movie was frustrating, as the writers apparently abandoned any attempt to make things unique or realistic.

The movie culminates when the dolls come to life, demons appear everywhere, the baby disappears and Mia receives the ultimatum that she must sacrifice her own life to bring her baby back. The plot throughout remains predictable and, like most horror movies, the characters make a series of stupid decisions instead of solving their problems in a believable fashion.

What makes the movie worthwhile is its simple scare factor. Each new scene in Annabelle” keeps the audience on the edge of their seats and bracing themselves for the next shock. Some scenes, such as the murder of the neighboring family, came as a shock. Others, such as one where Mia gets trapped in a basement as a black demon approaches and attacks, hold the suspense indefinitely.

Interestingly, the final scene in “Annabelle” and “The Conjuring” is the same, showing the Annabelle doll locked in a glass case to hopefully contain the spirits. Besides that scene, the plots do not connect in any way, so the sequel aspect of “Annabelle” is little more than a promotional strategy.

The movie does not really offer anything new or innovative to the typical horror movie concept. However, the fear factor definitely succeeds, and the bright setting — 1960s California— is visually appealing. It offers enough suspense to justify watching it for anyone who enjoys scary movies, but not much more to it. Nevertheless, with Halloween coming up, now is as good a time as any to indulge in a horror movie, and “Annabelle” is as good a choice as anything else.

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