This American supernatural, horror film is the fourth film in a franchise which began with “The Conjuring” in 2013. The franchise to date has four films linked to it.
In this movie, nasty intent resides in a demonic-looking doll that was first introduced in “The Conjuring” (2013) called Annabelle. Both the titled “Annabelle” films (2014 and 2017) are directed by different persons, and the director of “The Conjuring” (James Wan) is the producer of the present movie. The sequence of events is complicated. The events of this film precede those of “Annabelle” (2014), which is a prequel to “The Conjuring” (2013).
This film tells us how Annabelle was made. A heart-broken doll-maker, Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPlagia), lives with his bedridden wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), in a rural Californian house that has a locked room. Their seven year old daughter was killed tragically in a car accident years earlier, and the locked door is the entry to their dead daughter’s room. Esther lies in another room along the corridor. She is facially scarred, and terrified of the doll.
The couple invite six orphans, whose institution has been shut down, into their home. The orphans are being cared for by a Nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Stegman), who arrives with rosary beads in her hand. Samuel instructs everyone to keep out of his daughter’s old room. Not unsurprisingly, there is considerable interest in what is behind the locked door. In the room, a dead spirit waits in the form of a doll, called Annabelle, who wants to “steal” their souls. Annabelle is capable of extremely malicious behaviour, and she sets her sights on the children and the Nun, who have come into her home.
The director, David Sandberg, uses every trick in the trade to startle. One of the orphans is a young girl, Janice (Talitha Bateman) who is strickened with polio. Janice spends her time, watching the others have fun, and can’t resist exploring the forbidden room. When she does, she unleashes the demon that lies within. Shrieking, the demon chases Janice through the house, and it is soon clear that the doll is a conduit for evil of many different kinds.
The film anticipates the next instalment in the series, which is called “The Nun”. The Nun was a character introduced in “The Conjuring 2”, and becomes a demonic force. In this film, a Nun is in charge of the orphans – which suggests there are grim times ahead.
Just as in “Lights Out”, David Sandberg uses light and darkness to create his escalating suspense and tension, and he does it well. One constantly searches shadows and dark corners of rooms for hints, or signs of demons and apparitions. But where light and shadow gave signs of the supernatural in “Lights Out”, we know in this film that evil emanates from a baby doll. Certain evil is focused on the doll, but its powers of evil are immense. The doll, is a conduit for evil, and that allows one’s imagination to roam free.
This is a well-constructed, horror film that will cause nightmares in children, if one wants that to happen, and it is consistent with the horror movies in a particular franchise that is destined to continue. Trick photography is a special feature of the film, and Sandberg plays very intelligently with lighting to help create the film’s special effects. Music also plays a part. The franchise’s favourite melody, “Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away”, plays menacingly throughout.
This is a smartly-paced horror film that is not for the faint-hearted. People gruesomely meet their end, but they are not those we are led to expect. Only two people are actually killed, but the film creates a great deal of anxiety that Annabelle wanted to kill many more. Those attached to the horror genre will have to wait for the next film, where Annabelle might be given another chance.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting