Apparently the whole franchise is R. I'm going to give it the same warning as The Conjuring. The movie is definitely very creepy. There's not a ton of gore with the exception of one pretty intense scene at the beginning. If I was the MPAA (and I should be!), I would either go with a very intense PG-13 or a very light R.
DIRECTORS: John R. Leonetti and James Wan
I shouldn't like this movie! Doll movies are dumb. Yes, doll horror movies aren't at all scary and I won't even apologize to the Chucky crowd. Every time there is a creepy doll, I just roll my eyes. Like, I'm not scared of clown either, but I at least understand the clown fear. Killer doll movies always make the killer doll less than scary. The idea of a doll walking around just makes me giggle, so I've never been on board these movies. So what changed when it came to Annabelle besides my typical low expectations that got blown away? (I refuse to comment on how low expectations seem to have been tarnishing the objectivity of my reviews lately.) Annabelle did something remarkably smart when it came to the doll movie. It didn't move the doll.
I have to repeat that Iow key enjoyed The Conjuring when I thought I wouldn't. What The Conjuring did for me was establish a very cool tone that I see has been carried through to Annabelle. What this franchise seems to be about is taking a very safe trope and adding subtle but important elements to make them fresh. In The Conjuring, it is established that demons that have never had corporeal form are trying to possess the living. In Annabelle, it is firmly established that nothing is formally possessing the doll. SPOILERS: There is this awesome mislead (where Annabelle gets her name) implying that the doll is under control of a murdered cult member. While that cult member still has some kind of tie to the doll (and I'm still not sure exactly what that relationship is), this ties back to the universe that these possessing demons have never really been alive. They are tricksters who play up the haunting element of the story. This is where Annabelle really thrives and falters simultaneously. The doll is a central point for a haunting, but never really is a person itself despite its shape. It continues many of the same beats as The Conjuring, establishing the malevolent torturing of a family. This is awesome because it really worked in the first film. The only issue I'd probably have with that is that it hits too many of the beats of the first film. By making this a ghost story, for all intents and purposes, it does play it pretty safe. The good news is that the template for The Conjuring is a pretty good template. It also avoids the problem with sequels and spin-offs by making the mythology too ridiculous. These are separate demons with separate backstories that are only loosely connected to the Warrens. What makes the movie a little stronger is that the Warrens don't show up. Instead, there is a quick line about a priest getting in touch with them on the coast. That's it.
The scares are pretty good in this movie. I was going to post a photo of the demon crawling on the ceiling, ready to attack the protagonist, but I thought it might be a bit too disturbing to be putting up on my Facebook page, let along my Catholic Film Geeks group. (I have no idea who is reading these on that page, but I know that there are some horror fans on that site.) The great thing about the ghost story framework is that there are a lot of different types of scares that can be explored without really stepping on another movie's toes. The basement sequence in this movie was great in that way. Because the movie had moved the ghost story out of the rickety old house from The Conjuring and into an apartment structure, the same kind of demon now has a new obstacle course to work with. The same thing holds true with the follow-up moments to the basement. Mia running up the stairs is absolutely terrifying and the style of "showing the monster" still runs through this one. These monsters are creepy as get out. Like the previous one, the demon is dark, which works because you can look right at it and still not be quite sure what you are seeing. I know that this sounds like a negative, but it really works for the creep factor as a whole.
Probably the weakest element for this film is the weak characterization of both protagonists. Mia freezes every time something bad happens. A lot of bad things happen to her and she is far from the Ripley character that I like to see in my horror movies. There are many times that I could imagine yelling in a theater, "Run! Why aren't you running?" Once or twice gets annoying. Many many times is just plain old anger-inducing. A passive protagonist means that the world just happens to this character. The character isn't making choices. If anything, the Annabelle doll kinda sucks at its job if it can't get rid of a character who just stands there staring at it and screaming. Compounding Mia with John is even worse. John, while being a morally supporting husband, often falls into the skeptical doctor archetype. These characters clearly have something messed up going in the house. I am a huge skeptic. I never believe people's "I swear to God" ghost stories. But I also acknowledge that something is going on. Why isn't John ensuring that Mia has companionship when all this stuff with the pregnancy is going on? He's a doctor (resident...sure, but they have money). If Mia is having such a hard time being home alone and is swearing that evil stuff is happening around the house, shouldn't he find someone to help her out with those issues, demonic or not? But the story wouldn't really work. Also, Alfre Woodard's Evelyn doesn't make a lick of sense in this movie. I really like the message that they were trying to get across, but she really shoehorns herself into this young couple's life. I like the idea that Mia needs a friend, but this friend has all of the answers. She is too perfect of a character when it comes to resolving the plot. Also, I don't necessarily believe that choice she makes at the end. Yeah, you could justify it all you want, but I think that there a bunch of different options that aren't explored at the end.
I really now have to wonder how many Catholic priests are fully versed in demon possession and exorcisms. I feel like many priests would at least have to do some research before even feeling comfortable discussing it with a parishioner. These things are big deal. Sure, showing a priest uncomfortable and making phone calls may seem like filler, especially in something that is made to maintain tension, but it rings as false. Also, a cop giving a victim crime scene photos because she insists seems really weird. But these are nitpicky points. The movie is way scarier than I thought it could possibly be. I have to give major points to a movie that got me involved despite the fact that I thought I would enjoy its premise. But maybe that's not fair because it avoided the actual premise I signed up for. Regardless, I had a really good time with this and I'm still excited to finish The Conjuring 2.
I can't promise I am going to be able to watch Annabelle: Creation because of timing, but we'll see. It is a remote possibility.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.