director John R. Leonetti
Annabelle, the haunted doll movie, a prequel/spin-off of James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013), didn’t call out to me (in a creepy voice) that it was something that I needed to see, much less see in the theater. However, my 13 year old son, who has up until recently stated that he didn’t like horror films has suddenly decided that he does like them and wants to watch ones that look particularly scary to him. The film did call out to him, apparently.
That said, it doesn’t take a lot of arm-twisting to get me into seeing a horror film. But as I bought tickets and we headed up the escalator to the theater, I realized to him that I don’t think I’ve ever taken him to a horror film in the cinema, much less an R-rated one. At home, he cowers behind pillows or grabs my arm when things get intense. In the theater, things tend to be more intense due to the size, volume, and darkness. He assured me that he’d be fine.
The Conjuring was supposed to be based on the “real life” experiences of supernaturalists, Ed and Lorraine Warren, “their freakiest case” or some such thing. And it featured a room of their house that was filled with evil or possessed objects, of which, supposedly, Annabelle the amazingly creepy-looking doll, was the most evil of all. Annabelle the movie is supposedly about the real-life(?) doll, the first in a potential series of films about the objects of this creepy room. I have to give them credit, that’s a pretty sweet and pretty wide-open franchise of things scary.
The film begins with a group of nurses telling the off-screen Warrens about their experiences with the creepy doll, and then the film flashes back another year to a young married couple in Santa Monica, expecting their first child, and decorating its nursery with antique dolls. But then all hell breaks loose in the form of a murderous cult couple, the young adult drug-addled daughter of their next door neighbors who, much like the Manson family, have come to wreak murder and havoc in middle class California. They kill the neighbor family and stab the pregnant woman in her abdomen before getting shot down by police and/or committing suicide. The daughter, Annabelle, bleeds into the creepy doll’s eye as she dies.
This is actually quite shocking and terrifying in itself. Whether devil-worshipers or drug-induced cult nutsos, this random act of violent chaos bears of the reality of the time of the late 1960’s/early 1970’s when this stuff was relevant and a true fear.
Of course, that blood infects the doll and evil things happen in the house. Evil things even follow the couple from the house to Pasadena, to an older apartment building to which they relocate. That’s because this is one of those dolls you can’t get rid of…and is being used as a conduit by a demon seeking a soul.
Frankly, I was really surprised how good Annabelle was. It hadn’t received very good reviews. I had thought The Conjuring to be pretty good, but not overly great, so I didn’t have particularly heightened expectations. But the film relies on some more practical visual effects for much of its creepy imagery. And while there certainly are a lot of loud music jumps, eerie movements in a frame’s background, techniques you’ve seen many times before, the film does build on a solid framework of narrative, has some genuinely creepy qualities, and is pretty darn effective.
It played Felix like a Stradivarius. Actually, he was so primed that he even jumped during the trailer for Ouija (2014). He was so freaked during some of it I thought he was going to hyperventilate. I really questioned if bringing him was the right thing. He grabbed my arm throughout, and whether it was through some contact vicariousness, or even enhanced by other gasping and laughing members of the audience, I found myself enjoying the film much more than I expected.
In then end, Felix said that it was definitely among his most scariest films. I’ll settle for saying that it was very good, much better than anticipated, and that I was impressed, which believe me, is a compliment, even if it sounds a little backhanded.
It’s true that the two genres of movie that are the most fun to see with an audience are horror films and comedies. Whatever your response is, it’s easily influenced for the better hearing those around you gasping or laughing or shouting or screaming. It does actually make the whole thing more fun.
Surprisingly fun, in fact.