The prequel to The Conjuring isn’t particularly good, but it’s not altogether bad. It’s a fairly middle of the road exercise in franchise building There are worse movies to watch this Halloween season.

For those who have not seen The Conjuring Annabelle is a doll that a demon uses to torment people in order to possess them. The doll was briefly but effectively introduced in The Conjuring and here gets its first starring roll. Yes there are a lot of people in this movie, but the doll is the real star here.

The story follows a newly married. The husband is a medical resident working long hours paying his dues which really means that he’s always gone so the wife can be tormented by the demon alone which is after all the only way to torment someone. The wife is expecting and the husband gets her the Annabelle doll as a gift for the baby.

Here’s the problem. The Annabelle doll was designed for The Conjuring to look scary. It was made to look like it has aged and rotted and turned evil. It is horrible to look at. Here it’s still horrible to look at. Why anyone would get this doll as a gift let alone be excited to receive it is inexplicable.

Anyway after a tragic and genuinely effective scene the doll seems to be marked for evil. Some strange phenomena occur, and the young family move to an apartment. Good call! Too often in haunted house movies the couple stay in the house they should clearly run from. Here they ditch the place and make a run for it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help. They packed the demon with the fine china when they moved. It and the doll torment them further in their new apartment.

The movie isn’t particularly scary. It relies too heavily on cgi demons and jump scares. It’s set ups for jump scares are way too obvious. When our heroine walks into the dark and creepy basement it’s a pretty obvious guarantee that something is going to jump out.

They also mess up a couple of great setups. The heroine is running away from something in the shadows. The lights go out. She’s climbing the stairs. Lightning flashes. It’s the only light that illuminates the dark stairwell behind her. Suddenly a deep growling sound comes from the dark. She looks. The lightning flashes and reveals the demon’s horned face hanging upside down directly in front of the camera… what? Why is it upside down? What is it holding onto? It honestly looks like a mistake. It looks like the editor accidentally flipped the shot but was too embarrassed to admit it. So he said it was an artistic choice and everyone bought it. Seeing it made me laugh instead of jump.

There is however one great scene. The mom is comforting her baby after something horrific has happened behind her, the limp doll sits up on its own. It stands. The mom turns. The doll rises and hovers in midair. What really makes this scene is the use of light. The daylight pouring in through the window obscuring the doll and whatever is behind the doll is fantastic.

The movie in the end is a mixed bag. It really screws some things up. It gets some things very right, but in the end it’s not only okay.

It’s kind of my cup of tea. C+

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