By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

One of the more memorable and truly frightening moments of the horror film, The Conjuring, comes from a subplot involving a horrid porcelain doll kept in the somewhat safe custody of the Warrens.  Because these scenes had such an impact on movie audiences, producers Jenny Hinkley, Hans Ritter, Peter Safran, and James Wan (director of The Conjuring) moved forward with a movie dedicated to Annabelle.  This spin-off/prequel does manage to deliver some solid frights, but lacks the great writing and story development that make The Conjuring quite good.  Directed by John R. Leonetti and written by Gary Dauberman, Annabelle makes for fun horror entertainment, but doesn’t offer much substance otherwise.

John and Mia Gordon are expecting their first child.  Because Mia has been decorating the nursery with various antique dolls, John buys Mia the one doll that is missing from the collection. After their home gets invaded by a satanic cult, the new addition to the collection becomes a conductor for supernatural activity.  As the the Gordons and their newborn daughter try to move on with their lives, the Annabelle doll goes with them and proves to be a greater threat than they had anticipated.

This film’s screenplay has its moments, but tends to rely on horror cliches and tropes.  The movie does have its share of well executed scares, but has its lame and failed attempts as well. The main characters are not all that dimensional and lack the necessary development to make them more compelling.  They are likable enough to earn empathy from the audience, but they just aren’t all that interesting overall.  As for the supporting characters, there’s a priest and a paranormal-savvy character–the typical cliches that can be found in dozens of horror films.

As the Gordons, Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton perform adequately, so I have no real complaints about them.  I just found the writing and development of their characters rather dull.  As Father Perez, Tony Amendola performs well despite the similar issues with his character’s development.  The one actress who really surprised me was Alfre Woodard.  Woodard, who usually performs well in her films, is actually stiff, wooden and sometimes robotic.  There are moments in the film where she has a blank stare on her face.  This would actually work had the character been blind, but that is not the case at all with Evelyn, a bookstore owner who befriends the Gordons.  I was rather disappointed with her lack of feeling and charisma here.

The film itself lacks a bit of that love also.  The presentation isn’t completely heartless, but lacks compelling and engaging characters.  As for the doll, I definitely have one gripe with the one used in the film.  How in the hell would anybody seriously want that hideous looking doll as a collectors’ item?  Not once did I find the doll cute or pretty.  Had the doll looked more adorable in the beginning of the story and slowly started looking wicked, I’d find the desire to own the doll more credible.  Still, once the doll does go evil, it does have the perfect look. Annabelle is movie I’d recommend waiting to see as a rental or on Netflix.  It is a fun and spooky movie that horror buffs will enjoy watching at home in the dark.  I just wouldn’t expect much more from it other than the fun and exciting scares.

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