by Adam Riske
Annabelle was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a cheaply made piece of garbage expressly put together to capitalize on the success of The Conjuring. Instead, Annabelle is a suspenseful, even classy spin-off worthy of a look. If Annabelle were part of an SAT question, it would be to The Conjuring what Insidious: Chapter 2 was to the original Insidious. Not great, but good enough.
Is Annabelle original? No. Does it have something worthwhile to say? Nuh uh. In fact, it barely has any themes that I can identify. Is it Casper worthy (btw…have you voted for the Caspers yet)? Probably not. But it is entertaining, and being simply that is fine. Annabelle is also a bit edgy, which came as a surprise as The Conjuring, for as much as I enjoy that movie, is a bit dull when it comes to being “hardcore” horror. Annabelle is less concerned with you having fun than The Conjuring was, especially in the early going with a ritual killing fashioned after the Manson cult. The cult sequence got under my skin, which I’m sure was director John R. Leonetti's intention. It works.
One aspect of the movie that I appreciate is that it is earnest. Annabelle doesn’t wink at the audience as if to say “haha this is a silly movie about a killer doll,” but instead handles the material about as matter-of-factly as it can. It is also a religious movie to an extent; the couple are devout Christians and even employ a priest to help rid them of the evil supernatural spirit that manifests not only in Annabelle but in its own form as well (the actual demon is a great effect once you see it; it’s shot in darkness, so I believe it’s practical makeup but I could be wrong). I am not a religious person myself and some of the religious speak in the movie comes across as ham-fisted, but I respect a horror movie for taking that approach. It humanizes the characters as opposed to making them ciphers who don’t believe in anything but themselves. These are good people who want to save each other (plus their baby) and you want to see them get out of this bad situation.
I haven’t negatively criticized Annabelle yet, and that’s surprising me even as I write this review. I think the reason is because I genuinely enjoyed everything. The performances are fine (they’re not exceptional). It’s a handsomely made movie and features a knockout of a set piece where Annabelle Wallis’ character is being watched by a demon, first in their apartment’s storage room and then on the stairs leading up to their home. The scene plays out similar to watching a nightmare. It’s a sequence I am still thinking about days later. I loved it.