Movie review: "Annabelle" conjures some old-school scares

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

This week a press release informed me the original “Saw” was getting a 10th anniversary theatrical re-release for Halloween. This reminded me a) how little I cared for the “Saw” movies and b) the fact that they literally made a half-billion dollars despite not being very good.

Our horror movie habits — and the horror movies that Hollywood greenlights as easy money — is pretty cyclical. The run of so-called “torture porn” has mercifully come to an end.

Which brings us to “Annabelle,” a prequel/spinoff of last summer’s successful scarefest “The Conjuring” (which was directed by a maturing James Wan, who was the director of the original and, relatively speaking, best “Saw”).

Set in late ’60s Southern California, “Annabelle” follows Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and her handsome doctor husband John (Ward Horton) as they await the birth of their first child. As a thoughtful gift for mother and child, John finds Mia a version of a doll she’s long sought after.

Then — as apparently happens all the time in the late ’60s in Southern California — their household is attacked by members of a Satanic cult. As they recover from the attack and welcome their new baby, things get creepy, and it all revolves around that creepy doll.

Director John R. Leonetti steers “Annabelle” in the same vein of old-school haunted house/supernatural scares that worked for “The Conjuring.” It’s far from groundbreaking, but Leonetti shows restraint in building creeping tension, and he pays that off with a few truly great scares (though some are more “earned” than others”).

What took “Conjuring” to the next level was an above-average cast, especially Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in the leads. “Annabelle” relies on more unknowns. Wallis’ Mia is a dead-ringer for Manson Family victim Sharon Tate, but she’s not as capable of carrying a film as (Oscar nominee) Farmiga.

In fact, the biggest name in the cast is (Oscar nominee) Alfre Woodard, who is saddled with a supporting role that’s the very definition of the magical black person sent to help white people that Spike Lee once lamented.

Still, you go to this movie looking for scares, and it delivers in creepy form, at least until the end. I’ll be waiting for the proper “Conjuring” sequel in 2015.

Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema


Opens Friday

2 1/2 stars out of 4