Annabelle, a creepy, possessed Victorian doll, was one of the stars of last year’s horror hit The Conjuring, despite only appearing in a handful of scenes. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that she takes centre stage in this prequel, which plays like a Buzzfeed list of fright-movie cliches. Creepy children, moving dolls, enclosed spaces, darkness, bangs, flashes, devils – bingo!
John R Leonetti’s film borrows heavily from classics like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby but has none of their deftness of touch. Instead Annabelle inhabits a world where people matter of factly say things like: “Of course a demon can’t take the soul of a baby,” as if they’re discussing some immutable and obvious law of physics.
And this is the problem; everything is over-explained, often by a mystical black lady (a borderline-racist piece of casting). Part of the Annabelle doll’s sinister charm is its impassivity; that unmoving, malevolent face, but Leonetti insists on showing the evil behind the doll, which is far less frightening.
Every now and then it threatens to become a genuinely chilling experience – a scene set in a basement lift is particularly horrifying – and if you don’t jump and squeal, you have a tougher constitution than me. But that’s not the benchmark for a good horror movie – Annabelle just isn’t smart enough and doesn’t work hard enough for its scares.
First published in City A.M.