Wow. This movie is fantastic. It has its issues, but on sheer visceral scares this movie is a huge winner.
This is the prequel to the prequel to The Conjuring. Which is a ridiculous statement, but this movie goes so far beyond what it was set up to be. It rises above its franchise roots to really create a scary and worthwhile film.
This film shows how the Annabelle doll was made and what evil force took hold of it. A doll maker and his wife take in a group of orphan girls. Their huge house is full of secrets and dark corridors and an abundance of colored glass that looms and sets everything on edge. The story specifically follows one girl who is recovering from polio. She has difficulties walking and feels isolated from the rest of the girls. She is the perfect target for a demon looking to possess a human body.
This film is a masterclass in tension and maintaining tone. There are sequences that build for an unbearable amount of time. The strings just get pulled tighter and tighter until it seems impossible to hold on any longer then it releases enough tension so the audience can breathe, but that undercurrent remains. This film filled me with dread. I wanted to spot and take a breath several times, but I had to keep watching.
The way it achieves this is very unique. There’s an early scene where the lead girl is alone at the top of the stairs, something moves behind her. She strains to see into the shadows, then the other girls run up the stairs. This breaks the tension slightly, but it’s not a jump scare. There’s no big musical cue. There’s only the knowledge that something is down that dark and shadowy hallway, and that our heroine is not apart of the group.
These Annabelle movies and modern ghost stories in general are like the slasher movies of the 80’s. They’re inexpensive to produce. They follow pretty well laid out formulas and they make a lot of money. The difference is that care is taken with these films to be scary. The director of this film is pulling out all the stops to create a terrifying experience. These films are employing young directors and giving them a chance to work and experiment. The biggest reason these are better though is the goal of the antagonists. Jason wanted to chop up teenagers. Freddy wanted to murder kids. Annabelle wants to terrify a little girl to the point that she is weakest and allows the demon to take over her body. Ghosts and demons want to scare us not chop us up. This results in movies designed to scare not shock us or gross us out.
This film has a script problem. A lot of the dialogue is clunky. The open sequence of a happy family feels really awkward. It doesn’t feel genuine at all. If this film had a better script or just a little more time and attention given to these early scenes the movie would be near perfect. It also has a choppy tacked on ending sequence that tries to ham handedly tie it to the previous installment. It’s terrible to watch a great movie go out of its way to save a bad one from drowning just because they’re in the same franchise. All that aside as it stands this film is a dread soaked thrill. It is a fantastically scary movie worth watching.
My cup of tea. A