Superificial creepiness is taken as far as it can go in Annabelle, a prequel/spinoff of sorts of The Conjuring, that finds a physically horrifying doll reign havoc on a young family.
Instead of solely relying on the fact that this apparently sought after relic, at the time not yet named Annabelle, has an ominous look (we’re ignoring the fact that anyone would actually want to keep this around), we’re treated to a standard story of demonic possession and supernatural forces.
John and Mia Form, a young couple living in 1980s Santa Monica, are about to welcome their first child when murderous cultists ruin their idyllic life – as murderous cultists are wont to do. After slaying the neighbours, they take to the Form house. Blood is spilled by one Satan worshipper, infecting the doll and setting forth a series of strange occurrences that plague mother Mia.
It’s typical horror fare, from machines turning on at random to whispers in the dark, to introducing a wise priest and noisy neighbor to help move along the narrative and lead Mia towards an expected climax. While Annabelle lacks novelty, it still does deliver a handful of genuinely scary moments, and does well at simply restraining from going off the rails entirely as some horror does; it neither goes to the same well too often nor becomes tragically absurd.
We’re mostly confined to the Form’s unsettling apartment building, where long hallways, old elevators, and an especially haunting basement keep nerves high. The camera will slowly settle on Annabelle, and watch the as the doll sits idly on a shelf or rocks in a chair, but it’s what happens around her that ends up being more terrifying.
That’s the strange part of Annabelle. The doll is a conduit for evil, the soul of a woman named Annabelle. The film too uses the doll, for better and worse, as a conduit for a straightforward possession tale that is sure-footed and safe.