If you’re a very easy lay for spooky movies then Annabelle ought to get a mild rise out of you. Directed by cinematographer John R. Leonetti from a screenplay by Gary Dauberman, the modest, low-budget flick is an offshoot of the insanely popular and considerably better, The Conjuring. This time, though, there are no performances on the level of The Conjuring’s Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga or Lili Taylor’s to bamboozle us into thinking we’re watching a much fresher, smarter flick.
The thrills of Annabelle, such as they are, take off from a bland, very white doctor husband (Ward Horton) gifting his even blander, whiter pregnant wife and antique doll collector (The Tudors actress Annabelle Wallis) with a weird-looking eponymous doll. Wait. So, why would she want to own it, let alone never so much as comment on how freakishly un-cute it is? The action is set in the late 1960s, something we mostly know because we see on the couple’s TV set little bits of Charles Manson and Laugh-In. We’d never know if from the tiresome dialogue, which is crammed with annoyingly overused words and catchphrases that scream 2014.
Moving to a new home after a bloody home invasion and attack by Satanists, the couple and their infant get befriended by a persistently nice local bookstore owner (Alfre Woodard, trying too hard) who knows a thing or two about grief and about the occult. Meanwhile, visions of earlier movies like Rosemary’s Baby (the heroine is even named “Mia,” as in Farrow) dance in our heads, that damn doll moves from place to place, window curtains billow, a sewing machine goes bonkers, Jiffy Pop turns malevolent, and a baby carriage goes sailing across a street on its own steam. Are you scared yet? Produced by The Conjuring director James Wan and filled with cheesy scare effects and uninvolving characters making completely unmotivated character decisions, Annabelle isn’t likely to haunt anyone’s dreams. **