“Annabelle” Movie Review: Cheap Scares Galore!

Some things will always scare us. But they will never terrify us.

After The Conjuring, um, conjured up a surprising amount of critical and financial success last summer, it was inevitable that some type of follow-up film would be made. And that’s how we got Annabelle (a prequel, to be specific).

Unfortunately, Annabelle isn’t as strong as The Conjuring, but that’s a little unfair because most horror movies are pretty freaking awful to begin with, and that’s really not the case for Annabelle.

I mean, it definitely helps using a creepy doll as a prop for demonic possession. Dolls are always weird, and movie characters should know by now that something that looks weird always – ALWAYS – has heinous intentions in the works.

It really is befuddling to see a character pick up a doll and coo at it, even if it looks scary as shit. Of course, the audience has the benefit of knowing exactly what’s going to happen, but there’s a reason most of us don’t just have sketchy dolls sitting on our shelves, peering at us with their cold, empty eyes.

And by the way, I had the pleasure of watching Alien for the first time right after watching Annabelle, and it was intriguing to see an “old” film like Alien utilize horror so well, while a new movie like Annabelle attempts to use nothing BUT old tricks, and is considerably less effective.

That’s really the “problem” with Annabelle. It was pretty scary, but I didn’t actually feel terrified when I left the movie theater. Many of the scares were short, temporary bursts of sudden noises and sudden movements. Yeah, they work, but it’s certainly not a baby alien bursting out of a man’s chest.

Yes, that’s the one from Spaceballs. All in good fun, eh?

The highlights of Annabelle mostly followed the old saying “less is more.” A demon, for example, is considerably more frightening when shown lurking in the shadows. When it decides to come out and harass our protagonists in the light, the effect is considerably reduced.

Also – I have to quickly mention this – but shame on the trailer for spoiling some of the better moments of the movie. If you’ve seen the trailer, continue reading; the element of surprise is gone for you. If you have not seen the trailer yet (somehow), please skip the following lines until you reach the bold font.


So remember that part in the trailer where the girl runs through the half-open door and reappears as a shrieking woman in a bloody, white dress? That had the potential to be one of the best scenes in the film, but was ruined thanks to the trailer.

Honestly, I’m not sure why they thought it was necessary to include that.

Welcome back.

Annabelle‘s persistent reliance on cheap scares is lame, but it’s a good source for some quick flinches and scares. The other aspects of the movie are good enough to differentiate this one from the hordes of other horrors movies out there, but it’s a shame because this could have been so much better.

It didn’t help that the actors were ridiculously generic. The Conjuring was appealing in many ways, and the cast was one such example of that. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga were both great, but more importantly, they looked distinct (even though Wilson does look a little bit like NFL quarterback Philip Rivers).

Unfortunately, a bunch of bland people showed up for the prequel: a guy that looks like Eddie Redmayne (or the founder of 4chan, according to my buddy Kevin), a girl that vaguely resembles Tina Fey depending on the angle, and a priest/pastor that HAS to be related to George Carlin.

"Pray to Joe Pesci and he'll come by with a baseball bat and smash that fucking demon's knees."

“Pray to Joe Pesci and he’ll come by with a baseball bat and smash that fucking demon’s knees.”

Their performances were flat and completely unmemorable. I could not care less about what happened to any of the characters, and even found myself actively rooting against them at times. Especially, the George Carlin wannabe, who irritated me for some confounding reason.

But really, acting isn’t quintessential in a good horror movie.

If Annabelle had continued on its original path of creepy, subtle horror, it would have been much better. Sometimes, the possibilities are more horrifying than the reality of the situation, and Annabelle decided to forgo that at a certain point.

Still, it did succeed at one aspect: it left me wanting a sequel to The Conjuring, or even some kind of midpoint entry that closes the gap between Annabelle and The Conjuring. Well, as luck would have it, a sequel to The Conjuring is already in the works, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprising their roles as the Warrens.

The problem with turning a film into an entire franchise is that there’s usually a reason why that decision was made. That means the other films have an obligation to follow certain “rules” to make sure the good traits from the first film are present in the subsequent creations.

It’s not a coincidence that the best parts of Annabelle resembled the best parts of The Conjuring, whether it was that vintage/retro feel or the cinematography. Imitation may be a form of flattery, but it wasn’t even consistent enough in this case.

For whatever reason, Annabelle is referred to as a spinoff film rather than a prequel; I’m guessing it’s the same logic that makes The Bourne Legacy a spinoff of the Matt Damon trilogy.

Unfortunately, it has the feel of a spinoff, where it’s familiar, but not consistently enough. It also tries to be different, obviously, but the good parts are good enough to make the difference more noticeable than, say, in most other horror films where the quality is consistently flat.

Having said all that, I would recommend the movie. Horror movies are pretty hard to withstand because so many of them suck so hard. Annabelle doesn’t suck – it’s an above-average horror flick.

But just an average movie.

We’ll see if the franchise rebounds in the next film. I sure hope so, because this series still has a ton of potential.

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