The creepy doll from 2012 hit horror flick The Conjuring has got its own spin-off. In James Wan’s original film she appeared in a macabre museum of horrors at the home of 1970s paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. In this prequel, we meet a young couple when they are expecting a baby. They complete the mother-to-be’s collection of creepy dolls with what could be the Victorian era Bride of Chucky. Before you can say, ‘Wanna play?’ the friendly neighbours are brutally murdered by their estranged daughter Annabelle returned from a Charles Manson-style hippy cult with a satanic thirst for blood. And when she kills herself with her old childhood doll in her arms, an evil possession is complete.
If all that carnage went down in your kid’s bedroom you’d move out the next day. Not these idiots. People in horror movies never learn. This should be the starting point for some schlocky fun but Annabelle’s reign of terror, which mostly consists of creaking rocking chairs and flapping curtains, feels like a cookie cutter effort. Producer James Wan has tasked director John Leonetti (cinematographer on Wan’s 2012 film) to fulfill a vision that takes a dash of The Conjuring mixed with a few cuts from Insidious and a sprinkling of Sinister. It’s a lazy premise as the young mother faces her fears alone with her husband convinced they are just “manifestations of anxiety”. From the stock Psycho strings that herald the first ‘scare’ it all feels too forced and just not all that frightening. A good horror composer (think John Carpenter’s Halloween) should accentuate the jumps and shocks not signpost them but the scares turn out to be just as wooden as the doll. Wan is the twisted brain behind the Saw franchise and usually has a good handle on what his audience wants. He’s taken them for granted here.