by Hope Madden
Who doesn’t love a creepy-ass doll? Someone must, right? Doesn’t everybody’s old auntie keep a display case of them right in the guest bedroom where you have to sleep when you visit? And you really want to close the windows because the curtains are blowing in that menacing way, but you’d have to walk right past the display case. Well, that old auntie needs to see Annabelle. It’s for her own good. Because you have been right about those nefarious dolls all this time.
Yes, the horrid looking doll that introduced us to The Conjuring – hands-down the best horror film of 2013 – is back with a film all her own. It’s the dawning of the Seventies and a young pregnant housewife gets a gift from her devoted husband – a hideous vintage doll. Oh, how they cherish her…until she tries to eat their souls.
Old fashioned dolls are absolutely terrifying, but only in small doses. Luckily, director John Leonetti (upgraded from cinematographer on The Conjuring) understands this and presents three different faces for the scares. None is overplayed, each is genuinely frightening in its own right, and the anxiety over which might show up where keeps the tension tight.
Annabelle Wallis (seriously, the lead’s real name is the same as the doll’s!) turns in a solid enough performance as the vulnerable mom looking for the strength to protect her newborn from evil. Alfre Woodard manages to find some dignity in an obvious and underwritten character.
Ward Horton has less luck showcasing a pulse as supportive husband John. If you don’t pay close attention you might mistake him for a walking slice of Wonder Bread.
But they don’t really matter, do they? What matters is this: how scary is the doll and how cute is that baby she’s trying to harm?
Very and very.
The screenplay by Gary Dauberman throws in enough fun, unexpected scares to keep you jumpy while Leonetti tosses in some knowing nods toward iconic genre flicks. And while he cannot touch the timestamp authenticity of The Conjuring, the film has some fun with early Seventies images and ideas.
Annabelle never comes close to the near-classic status The Conjuring reached, but it’s a fun seasonal flick. Take your aunt. You may just save her soul.