Does Evil Exist and Can a Doll Truly Creep You Out?

Director: JOHN R. LEONETTI/2014

Annabelle is the story of a doll.  A very creepy doll that was briefly seen behind the locked glass cabinet of Ed and Lorraine Warren in the film The Conjuring.  Taking place in the shared universe of The ConjuringAnnabelle also stands alone as a tale of horror that one family endures in 1960’s California.

John R. Leonetti directs this prequel to The Conjuring after having served with that film’s director, James Wan, on Insidious 2 andThe Conjuring as the director of photography and cinematographer, respectfully.  And while this is Leonetti’s film, James Wan’s hands are all over Annabelle as a producer.

John (Ward Horton-The Wolf of Wall Street) is a medical resident just outside of Pasadena, California.  His wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis-The Tudors) is expecting their first child.  They are the all-American family.  He is going to be a doctor, she is going to be a stay at home mom who sews, goes to church, and is always dressed beautifully.  Mia is setting up the future nursery at their home and happens to collect rare dolls. After an emotional evening, John surprises Mia with the last doll needed to complete her collection-the doll that will be known as Annabelle.

The television they watch gives us clues as to when this is all taking place.  Charles Manson and “the family” are all over the television as are the news stories of the rise of various cults. John and Mia’s next door neighbors have a daughter who ran off to be in such a cult.  When that daughter, named Annabelle, along with her boyfriend, kills her parents and comes after John and Mia to show devotion to the “ram” they serve and to conjure up an entity, all hell breaks loose.

Annabelle is absolutely a tale of the demonic.  Where ghosts are thought to haunt certain locations, demons are malevolent spirits intent on wreaking havoc on the object of their anger.  As the priest tells John and Mia, “they are looking for a willing soul”.

This film does the right thing by taking its time to set the story, and to develop the characters.  There are enough clues along the way of what perils may befall this young couple in the film, but rather than spoiling the events ahead of time, they help keep the audience on edge as they anticipate the terror that is about to be unleashed.

There are some very creepy moments and this film will further reinforce the common wisdom that dolls in horror films are extremely scary.  Often, the camera slowly zooms from across the room to a tight close-up shot of the doll.  Each time that you are ready for it to move, blink, twitch, etc. the camera lingers, stretching out your anticipation.

There are several more effective scares here than existed in The Conjuring.  And like the faith of the Warrens in The Conjuring, here we see a positive example of faith through Father Perez (Tony Amendola-The Legend of Zorro).  Faith, as depicted here, is not seen as a superstitious belief that one runs to, to simply get rid of the evil that haunts them.  Here, it is a part of who this couple is and the natural place one would go to for help understanding when something spiritual is taking place in one’s life, whether that be good or evil.

The problem with many films like this (thought it is a needed one to create the tension necessary to carry the story) is that it creates the impression that good and evil are two equal, yet opposite, forces.  Dualism. For a horror film, dualism works because to be scared, one must believe that evil has an equal chance of winning.  The scriptures that Father Perez quotes claims that good triumphs over evil….especially through sacrificial love as is evidenced by Christ, and as the priest points out, “the love of a mother for her child”. But since we are but human, the presence evil can still be a crippling and frightening force, even if you believe it can be overcome.

In real life, the doll of Annabelle was a Raggedy Ann doll.  Such a doll makes an appearance towards the end of the film if you are looking for it.  While Annabelle works with an all new cast and story than The Conjuring, it would have been a nice touch to bring back Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga to reprise the roles as Ed and Lorraine Warren.  They are paid lip service, as is the glass case with Annabelle inside it that resides in their Occult Museum to this day.

Annabelle introduces some new angles into the horror genre, but mostly plays it straight telling a solid, yet straightforward story of good and evil where evil has attached itself to an object like a creepy doll.  Alfre Woodard is refreshing as a woman who has befriended Mia and who owns a bookstore where she is able to provide valuable insight on what John and Mia are experiencing via the books on her store shelves.

Annabelle should have a good run, induce some genuine scares and prepare people for the Halloween season.  What it should leave you with, however, is the question of whether evil exists and if it does, how are you trying to hold it at bay in your own life?  It will also seriously make you question most of your purchases…..and reinforce the notion that one should never, ever, under any circumstance, buy a creepy doll.