What you get with “Annabelle” is a potpourri of scary movie elements, including the creepy toy or doll, lights flickering, interruptions in TV or radio transmissions, furniture moving on its own, strange noises, uninvited spiritual visitations, doors closing by themselves, spooky hallways and basements and children or babies in peril.
What you do not get is a lot of originality or truly terrifying moments.
The screenplay by Gary Dauberman details a simple story, one that has been told before. Some object is brought into a household, in this case a doll that is about three feet tall. Shortly after this doll is in place, bad things happen, and even a change in residence does not relieve the victims of terror.
“Annabelle” takes place in the months after the Tate-La Bianca murders committed by members of the Charles Manson “family” in 1969. A young couple, John and Mia (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis), live in a nice neighborhood in Santa Monica. John is about to begin his medical internship and Mia is late in a pregnancy with their first child.
Mia is an expert at sewing and collects dolls, and one day John presents her with the one doll she has been coveting, the one that will be the biggest in her collection. A couple of horrible events soon follow that lead to discarding of the doll and convincing John and Mia to move. Also, their daughter Lea is born.
With John working at the Huntington hospital in Pasadena, the couple relocate to an apartment building in that city, and even though the doll had been thrown away at the Santa Monica residence, it somehow manages to appear in the Pasadena apartment. Despite that strange occurrence, Mia elects to keep it.
With John putting in long hours at the hospital, Mia is home alone with the baby and per usual in these chillers, strange things begin to happen, escalating from annoyances to terror. Mia, meanwhile, is befriended by Evelyn (Alfre Woodward), the owner of a local bookstore and a woman who has endured tragedy in her life.
As spooky events continue, John and Mia turn to their church and seek help from Father Perez (Tony Amendola). Eventually Evelyn also gets involved with helping Mia.
At this point, the expectations are that John and Mia may be betrayed by people they trust, people with diabolical motivations. This adds an element to the movie, which suffers from lack of effective creepiness. There are a couple of good, jolting scenes, but the overall effect is a mildly chilling movie.
Horton and Wallis are an attractive young couple, and the interplay between Wallis and the always watchable Woodard adds some touching moments to the proceedings.
“Annabelle” may hook some viewers who are drawn into the creepy-doll genre of horror films. Those who like their scares to be more intense will find “Annabelle” to be ho-hum.