MOVIE REVIEW – Forget Barbie, the most charismatic doll in the world is Annabelle, with big eyes, an easy smile, and a killer instinct. Indeed, Annabelle, the slayer doll is back, and this time we will learn her origin story. A doll maker and his tragically defunct daughter – you’ll guess the rest. Yet, this origin horror story holds a few surprises.
Whereas Universal tries to launch its Dark Universe of monsters and Lionsgate prepares an eighth Saw movie, still one horror franchise has expanded successfully under the radar. This prequel to 2014’s Annabelle – which is itself a spin-off from The Conjuring – gives an explanation of the genesis of the series’ supremely creepy wooden doll.
A grieving couple, a good nun, and the Evil in the doll…
In Annabelle 2 Anthony LaPaglia performs a strangely successful dollmaker in the 1940s, and together with Miranda Otto his wife—they are the soon-to-be grieving parents of seven-year-old Bee (Samara Lee). 12 years later, the couple, – still inconsolable – the couple opens its home to a kindly nun, Sister Charlotte (the pretty Stephanie Sigman, who is playing the exact opposite of the scary nun in The Conjuring 2) and six orphaned girls in her care. While it takes quite a while to things go wrong, still, it happens in the night and doors are opening and closing on their own: four different doors in the first 30 minutes. Little by little, more of the doll’s origins are revealed…
Too slow in the first half
Perhaps, one of the main problems of the movie is that things start to develop too slowly, there’s too much – rather boring – exposition and some of the girls themselves are not that interesting nor too well acted, while the movie spends quite some time with them. I understand that every horror flick needs an exposition, but they still need memorable characters – especially with a slow start. (A good example would be Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.) I am sorry, but a rather plain nun and some chatty young girls (main concern are boys and themselves) are not that interesting to spend quite some time with them, while almost nothing happens.
It should also be mentioned, that there’s not much attention paid to specific rules or signposts. The only thing that is strictly adhered to is the concept that the doll cannot move. Otherwise, all bets are off. Still, this is both a good and bad thing. It’s partly bad because you can never quite traverse the landscape of the movie’s internal logic. It left me asking questions like: did that creepy scarecrow rip open its mouth to reveal some ghoulish black demon underneath just because? And how does that fit into the larger mythological framework that they’re trying to establish? Also: almost no one is acting logically: hey, if there’s a creepy doll in that room, of which I am afraid of, I won’t go in there several times. Same with the creepy barn, when a monster chases me: I won’t go in there, even, if the director and scriptwriter tell me so!
But at the same time, with the narrative freed of such strict adherences to storytelling soundness, the movie feels wilder, looser, and more surprising. If anything can happen (and, trust me, it does), then there’s never a way of predicting where the next scare will come from. And for a genre that often feels threadbare and hopelessly predictable, this cannot be commended enough.
Two parents and two girls
Concerning performance, perhaps only Anthony LaPaglia, as the stoic, grieving father, Miranda Otto, as the mother, and Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson are worth to mention. The latter two, as the two leads are wonderful. They play characters who start off as best friends, who vow not to allow a family to adopt one of them without the other, but who are slowly pulled apart by the strange forces swirling through the farmhouse. It gives the movie some nice metaphoric resonance since, without the bloodied bodies, it could be seen as symbolic of the horrors of adolescence. These are young girls maturing and drifting apart and battling some form of ancient wickedness. It’s a pity, that the rest of the characters are not that interesting or well acted.
Young scream queens
Another problem is that the rhythm of the scares feels slightly off. Characters scream when they should be quiet and whimper when they should be hollering their heads off. It should also be mentioned that it felt utterly stupid, that while girls were screaming during the night, none of the others sleeping in the house would hear them.
Plus, it blatantly steals the rocking-chair gimmick from The Woman in Black. That said, it is still terrifying—a monster this grotesque will always be unsettling—but director David F. Sandberg sometimes fumbles the slow build. While it’s better than the first Annabelle, it’s nowhere near as good as the main Conjuring films. Better luck next spin-off: The Nun is on its way next year.