Annabelle, the standout in James Wan’s The Conjuring is back, in her own, eponymous film. And while Annabelle really had no place in The Conjuring, she doesn’t really have a place in Annabelle, either.
Young expectant couple John and Mia are clean-cut and annoyingly perfect, which only makes me eager to get to their inevitable suffering. Luckily, I don’t have to wait too long. Their next-door neighbors, an older couple with whom they go to church, lost their daughter two years prior when she ran away and joined a Satanic cult. One night, John and Mia wake to screams from next door. The Higgins’ daughter has returned, and she kills both of them. Then she and her crazed boyfriend attack Mia and John. The boyfriend stabs Mia in the belly before cops get there and shoot him dead. The daughter has locked herself in the nursery. When the cops break in, she has killed herself, clutching one of Mia’s beloved dolls. This is the Annabelle doll and guess what? The daughter’s name is Annabelle. And some of Annabelle’s blood has been absorbed into the Annabelle doll.
Mia and the baby are okay, but are put on bed rest until she delivers. John, a med student, isn’t home much, which leaves plenty of time for Mia to be haunted: things move, doors slam, all the usual haunted stuff. Mia doesn’t want the Annabelle doll in the house anymore, so John throws it away. A pack of Jiffy-Pop on an unlit stove sets the whole house on fire, and sends Mia to the hospital once again. She delivers a healthy baby girl (unfortunately named Leah) and demands that they move. John obliges, and somehow the Annabelle doll shows up at the bottom of one of their boxes. Mia decides to give the doll a second chance and puts it back in the nursery. Of course, the haunted happenings follow them to their new abode. Luckily Mia befriends a neighbor with a tragic past, who helps her realize that the Annabelle doll is trying to corrupt Leah.
The third act of Annabelle becomes quite ridiculous. As I was describing the plot to my husband, I had to stop in the middle. “This sounds even more ridiculous when I say it out loud.” No spoilers, but it all kind of falls apart in an effort to make sense. Everyone is looking towards self-sacrifice in order to solve an absurd situation and past transgressions.
For a movie about a doll, the doll is not the focus. The Annabelle doll (which is more terrifying brand-new) is given no backstory. What kind of doll was she? Why was she so rare, so sought-after by collectors? Annabelle was just a doll (a nameless one at that) until human-Annabelle killed herself and transferred evil into her. There are no details on how she did that, and the why is sketchy at best. The doll itself is not evil. She doesn’t move on her own or chase after people with a knife. Human-Annabelle could have just as easily “possessed” a toothbrush or a rug.
There is a definite Rosemary’s Baby vibe that I think writer Gary Dauberman and director John R. Leonetti are trying to go for. There is the obvious Satanic possession, the meek pregnant woman, and the era. But pushing it over the edge are the character names: Mia and John (Rosemary’s Baby starred Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes). And while it may be a tenuous link, Mia is watching news reports about the Tate/LaBianca murders and the arrest of the Manson family. (One of the Manson victims, Sharon Tate, was married to Roman Polanski and pregnant with his child. Polanski directed Rosemary’s Baby.)
I will say that Annabelle offered some good scares. Nothing astonishingly new or unique, but effective – which is surprisingly hard to do, it seems. It was a mildly fun, mindless two hours. But all in all, I think you would be happier just watching The Conjuring again. The Annabelle portion of The Conjuring was far spookier and more cogent than the entirety of Annabelle.