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WARNING: SPOILERS! Please do not read ahead if you have not yet seen Annabelle and wish to do so. Now that you have been warned that the whole movie plot is basically going to be given away, let us discuss the nuts and bolts of the film. First, some background: Annabelle is a prequel to the film The Conjuring, which was based on a “real life” haunted house case handled by the Warrens, a husband-wife team of “psychic” detectives who claimed that they could communicate with spirits and demons, and participate in all manners of charlatan hocus-pocus.
The Conjuring is, of, course, full of a bunch of silly nonsense about demonic possession, haunted houses and irritating antics performed by otherworldly beings. However, it is a clear winner over Annabelle. It is impossible to resist comparing the two films, since The Conjuring is a tightly woven movie with outstanding acting performances and many disturbing moments. Annabelle, on the other hand, delivers few serious chills. The scariest thing about the film is the subtle racism it delivers.
Annabelle opens with a quick scene of the people who inherited the doll of the same name after the event of the film unfold, talking to someone off-screen about how Annabelle would move on her own and cause other issues in their household. We then flash back in time to meet early-1970s couple Mia and John (do not miss the reference to the film from which Annabelle heavily borrows: Rosemary’s Baby). Mia is expecting a child, and John is an up-and-coming doctor.
John gives Mia a horrifying-looking doll, and then promptly leaves Mia alone all day to do 1970s housewife things like sewing, watching TV and walking around their home. One night, Mia hears a scream from next door, and witnesses what looks like a murder. John goes to investigate and comes back yelling and covered in blood. As he is telling Mia to call an ambulance, two freaky, presumably drugged-out cult members run into the house and attack Mia and John. One of them manages to stab Mia in the stomach.
Police arrive and shoot one of the intruders, and the female cult member commits suicide. It turns out that the two attackers are: the daughter of the next-door neighbors, who have been murdered by said daughter, and her boyfriend, who both belong to a satanic cult. Mia and the baby turn out to be fine and John escapes unscathed.
Soon, strange things begin happening: sewing machines turning on by themselves, doors slamming, Jiffy Pops catching on fire on the stove, which has been turned on by an unseen force, and so forth. Mia starts seeing haunting visions of the next door neighbor’s dead daughter, who, by the way, happens to be named Annabelle. The doll Annabelle keeps turning up in odd places corresponding to the strange events. The couple soon gets sick of seeing the creepy doll popping up all around, and throws her in the trash. Mia has her baby right after the Jiffy Pop explosion incident, and the family moves into a swanky Manhattan apartment. So does Annabelle. Even though they cannot figure out how she managed to get out of the trash and into a moving box, they decide, inexplicably, to keep her anyway.
Midway through the movie, a cliched film trope arrives, and part of the audience is left thinking; really? We are really doing this again? Yes, it is the magical, mystical, wise old black woman, come to impart her vast knowledge on the rest of the characters. Mia meets this magical wise black woman, Evelyn, who immediately wants to help out with the trauma Mia has been experiencing, and the two strike up a friendship.
Mia comes to find out through a priest that the demons are after a soul, and that is why they keep tormenting her. It turns out that Satan and his demons like to manifest themselves by attaching themselves to an object, in this case, that object is Annabelle. One interesting choice the filmmakers made was to have the demons manipulate the doll rather than have the doll come “alive” so to speak. One scene has the devil standing in a corner holding up the doll to show Mia. This decision did not please everyone. At the end of the movie, one audience member complained: “I waited the whole damn movie and the doll never blinked! Who makes a movie about a possessed doll and she never blinks?!”
Anyhow, since the demons/Satan need a soul, Evelyn decides to offer hers as a sacrifice to save Mia, John and the baby. Evelyn jumps out the window and smashes onto the pavement below, along with Annabelle. Since Evelyn is the only person of color in a horror movie, she of course has to die in order to help the white people. To learn more about the tired and offensive movie cliche of the mystical, magical black character, please see this excellent Salon article about it. After Evelyn fulfills her destiny, John and Mia go on about their happy lives, and Annabelle disappears.
Annabelle really misses the mark, and while there are a few moments where the audience does get startled, the filmmakers overlooked many opportunities. No new ground is covered and there is nothing unique or interesting about the story. The filmmakers resort to making the audience jump a couple of times, but that is about it. The inclusion of the racist “mystical magical wise black woman” film trope is distracting, and the film will not please many audience members who yearn for fresh material. Annabelle is playing in theaters nationwide now.
Last modified: October 13th, 2014 by Dave Schwartz