I really wanted to hate this movie. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the two Conjuring films, this latest installment of Annabelle, was not even going to pretend to have any basis in reality whatsoever. The whole “Based on a True Story” label is pretty much useless when it comes to horror movies anyway. As a paranormal investigator myself, little do what we ever encounter bears any resemblance to what is seen in the movies. The Warrens were ahead of their time in many ways: 1) they were investigating the paranormal before it became commonplace in our popular culture and 2) they knew how to sell a story. Little of what the Warrens ever investigated, I am sure, is true. I’m not going to get into that in this movie review, but I will take this moment to say I can still think they are charlatans and enjoy the movies in the Conjuring series. The first two were extremely well-done and told in an almost-documentary fashion. It led one to believe they might actually be true. Annabelle is entertaining and doesn’t suck, but the previous point is where it falters.
The real Annabelle doll which is currently held in captivity in the Warrens “haunted museum” where Lorraine continues to rake in profits is little more than a plush Raggedy Ann doll. The mass-produced doll itself is not scary. Nor is the haunted doll in image alone. If you can remove it from its supposed provenance, it is almost laughable seeing such an item locked up in a glass case getting “blessed by a priest twice a month”. In the film, the doll has been switched from a cute little stuffed toy into an enormous, sinister, wooden doll and that creaks and groans with every motion. The movie’s doll is over-the-top frightening (even before it becomes possessed). So much so that it is hard to believe anyone would want this thing in their house. Another strike against the filmmakers. An unassuming doll transforming into evil would have been far better than this monstrosity which looks demonic from the get-go. But we can’t have the audience work for their scares, can we?
The story of this Annabelle doll also has absolutely nothing to do with the original. According to the Warrens, the Raggedy Ann doll managed to become haunted by the spirit of a girl who died on the property the doll was made on. Only after it changed hands and ended up being given as a gift to someone did this spirit manifest and start moving the doll around the house. It then led to writing on walls and other bizarre incidents including claw-like scratches on one of the victims. There were seances and exorcisms performed, but in the end, the spirit was too strong and the Warrens took it under their watch so it could harm no more. Pretty interesting, no? It would actually fit right into the Conjuring series. Seamlessly, in fact. It could have even used “Based on True Events”.
Instead, it is changed around for Hollywood. It takes the jump from the more “historical” (dare I use that word) Conjuring movies and puts this thing in its own universe. It took a relatively normal account of a haunting and made it too grandiose for its own good. After all, how does this sound: a husband and his pregnant wife (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis— yes, that is her name) are viciously attacked by Satanic occultists in the vein of the Manson Family killings. One of the Satanists kills herself by slitting her own throat and the blood manages to drip into the doll. The person who killed herself is named Annabelle, which is where we get the name for the doll. Over the course of the film, it is revealed they were trying to conjure the devil or demons and steal souls. The demonic entity causing this havoc is of course residing in the doll.
From there we get the usuals: radios turn on by themselves, a stove malfunctions and burns a house down, doors open and close, there are strange noises, writing on walls and ceilings, and a wife is terrorized by seen and unseen forces which culminates is a ridiculously dramatic ending where a character sacrifices him/herself to save the family. Even for a demonic-themed horror movie, it is unnecessarily and overtly dramatic. There are some good scares and the film is well-made (this is not a cheap piece of crap here) but the filmmakers tried to do way too much with what already was a good story, whether it was true or not.
So, in short, I moderately liked Annabelle even though I thought I would hate it. But it still leaves me uneasy in the sense that it veered so far off course from The Conjuring. To me, it is a stain upon the franchise which while taking numerous liberties, has tried to present itself as “this is terrifying because it actually happened”. Well, this story did not happen. Not in any way, shape, or form. This departure hurts the finished product, and leaves me no choice but to award a 5 out of 10 stars when it could have been higher.