Annabelle (***): Solid, but nothing you haven’t seen before

Annabelle-Movie-Poster

Annabelle – 2014

Director John R. Leonetti
Starring Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Tony Amendola, Alfre Woodard, Kerry O’Malley, Brian Howe, Eric Ladin, Ivar Brogger, Tree O’Toole, Kiera Daniels, Morganna May, Michelle Romano, Christopher Shaw
Screenplay Gary Dauberman

There is a consistency about the horror films of James Wan, from the Saw franchise through Insidious and The Conjuring.  None of the films are what one could consider groundbreaking in originality, nor do they create anything one could consider a classic.  They all are good, however.  For the ghost stories of recent years, the model has been parents moving somewhere and finding their children in danger.  They move, the danger will follow.  People are haunted, mostly, not places.  In this case, it is a thing that is haunted.  Its a device that acts as a conduit for a demon.  Yeah, that’s not original either.  So we have to hope for style and hitting all the important points.

Annabelle is a doll that was featured in The Conjuring.  For those who saw the movie (that was lots) and have trouble remembering, they give a refresher at the opening of the film. Good thing is, they stay within the storyline of the original.  This should not be hard, because the people who made the first film controlled the making of the 2nd film.  This is not really a sequel, however, and not entirely a prequel, even though it takes place before the events of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s first encounter with the doll.

For this story, we go back to 1967, where John and Mia Gordon are expecting their first child.  Their neighbors are the perfect older couple who wish for the best, and pray that their own runaway daughter avoids the worst.  The prayers work, only if you consider Manson-like cults a success.  Things that are important to know: the neighbor’s daughter really likes the doll, and 911 as a service did not exist in 1967.

After a couple (that’s right, two) tragic events take place, the Gordons decide to move.  If the move worked, then the movie would have ended at about the 35 minute mark.  Thankfully, it doesn’t work.  We get a new, creepier venue (an apartment complex) where for some reason they only use the elevator when they need to put stuff into storage.  All of the rest of the time, they take the baby up and down 8 flights of stairs.  It was a different time, to be sure, but come on.  What type of risk is it to haul a baby up and down stairs when you have an elevator?

One of the favorite vehicles of Wan & co. is leaving the wife at home alone with the kids.  This time, she has a husband who is working on a medical residency that he says keeps him out over night, but we never see him during the day either. If they ever found a way to make a scary movie where both halves of the married couple experience the same stuff at the same time, I will be amazed.

There are several things Annabelle has going for it.  Foremost among these reasons is that the doll never moves on its own in front of the camera.  We’ve all had enough of that, what with Poltergeist and about 54 Chucky movies.  It’s much more effective to have the doll just be places and to see crayon’s roll across the floor in the hall after hearing obnoxiously loud (and rude) knocking.

Alfre Woodard is a very understated presence in the film, too. We’ve come to expect a black woman to be Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost stories. Woodard most definitely is not that. In fact she is well within the wheelhouse of what she does best here.  I have enjoyed her very much throughout her career, and this is no exception.

Another pleasant surprise is that what happens to the priest in the story (Amendola) is not even close to what we expect to see. My friends and I had to keep changing our predictions, and that is always a good sign.

Wallis and Horton are somewhat generic as a couple. I have seen the former in many films (X-Men: First Class, Snow White & The Huntsman) but have absolutely no recollection of her. Horton is just a guy who looks like (per Dennis Miller) he counts X-Rays as film credits on his résumé.

There are a few well placed scares in Annabelle.  I am pretty sure I will never look across to see what’s up in the neighbor’s house when I get up in the middle of the night ever again.  The film’s pacing is good enough that we never have to start pondering how many other films did the same thing better.  Either that, or I just can’t remember a time when anyone made this type of film other than Wan & Co.

(*** out of *****)

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