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Capone found ANNABELLE all too familiar and not especially scary!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

In a strange tactic, the makers of THE CONJURING spin-off ANNABELLE decide to open the film by letting you know that if audiences respond in droves this weekend and the film makes enough money, the seed idea for the sequel is ready. I guess we're supposed to take some degree of comfort in that. ANNABELLE is actually a succession of comfortable ideas on the horror genre, as it allows viewers to feel safe in a familiar environment of borrowed ideas from much better films. In its bird nest of straw made from bits of CHILD’S PLAY, INSIDIOIUS, and pretty much any other scare film that features a creepy ghost lady in white, the film even feels the need to reference the paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren from THE CONJURING just to remind you that better movies spawned this one.

Directed by John R. Leonetti (the veteran cinematographer who lensed THE CONJURING and directed BUTTERFLY EFFECT 2), ANNABELLE focuses on the doll's evil origins in the death knell of the 1960s. On the TV in the home of John and Mia Form (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis) are reports about the Manson Family murders. Mia is very pregnant, so the ritualistic killings and just general fears about the growing number of satanic cults are scaring her. Of course, it doesn't help when their next-door neighbors decide to reveal themselves as cultists and try killing her one night. The attempt fails but the blood of one of the neighbors leaks into a rare, ornate doll that Mia owns as part of a collection, and somehow this infects the inanimate object with a hell-born demon that the cultists were attempting to summon.

What the demon doll wants and how it goes about getting it, I suppose, is meant to be a mystery, so I won't reveal it here. But nothing about ANNABELLE is really a mystery, since we've seen it all before. While John is off to work, Mia is terrorized by happenings both big and small, and soon the couple decide that it's time to move, which of course doesn't solve the problem since the doll makes the trip with them.

There's no denying that the film has a handful of moments that will creep you out or downright make you jump and scream, but it can't seem to decide what the true source of evil is. Sometimes it's the doll itself, moving from room to room (it doesn't talk or move much beyond floating, but we rarely see it actually move) and just generally looking nasty. Sometimes we see a ghostly figure of the neighbor who tried to kill Mia. And other times, we see the demon that's possessing the doll, and those are probably the scariest sequences. But the decision to have three different sources of evil seems like overkill in this fairly small-scale work.

And then we have the presence of Alfre Woodard as neighbor and bookstore owner (which is convenient for doing research on the occult) Evelyn, who befriends the couple and turns into their spirit animal who protects Mia and her baby. Do I really need to explain the cinematic stereotypes this character fulfills? It would almost be laughable if it wasn't so offensive, especially when you see where Evelyn's storyline leads her. There's also a Hispanic priest character (Tony Amendola), if you need additional reasons to shake your head in disbelief at the sheer volume of cliches.

Beginning with the generic, good-looking leads who never seem to believe what it is they or the other has experienced ("Are you sure it's not just the pressures of having a baby to take care of that's causing you to see demons on the ceiling?") until they decide to dive right in and believe it all without question, to the lack of a central evil figure to latch onto (it really does feel like the filmmakers were afraid this fucked-up doll wasn't scary enough), ANNABELLE is a flailing, unoriginal, paint-by-numbers horror show (courtesy of writer Gary Dauberman) with very few truly terrifying moments and worse-than-bland characters. Let's stick with making that CONJURING sequel and leave well enough alone, shall we?

-- Steve Prokopy
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