Last year, James Wan’s The Conjuring scared the pants off of millions of moviegoers, grossing over $300 million worldwide and earning rave reviews from practically everyone who saw it. While I didn’t love it quite as much as everyone else seemed to, I still thought that it was a solid throwback to old school fright fests with a handful of masterful scares. One of the most memorable images in the movie was of the creepy doll Annabelle. Now she’s got her own spinoff movie, an origin story for a possessed object that we definitely did not need to know the origin of. Regular James Wan cinematographer John R. Leonetti has stepped in to direct and while he’s successfully reproduced the visual style that Wan has become famous for, he can’t produce the tone, story, characters or scares that elevate most of Wan’s efforts above the normal horror standard. Filled with cheap jump scares, uninteresting characters and a general lack of creativity, Annabelle is one of the worst horror movies of the year.

One year before the events of The Conjuring, we’re introduced to Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton), a young California couple with a baby on the way. While decorating the child’s nursery, John surprises Mia with the gift of a rare doll. One night, their neighbors are murdered by a man and woman associated with the occult. The intruders sneak over to their house and manage to attack Mia before the police arrive to save them. Perhaps most alarming is the obsession that the woman intruder had with Mia’s new doll. Mia eventually has her baby, but the trauma that she experienced in her home ends up being too much for her, so she and John move into a new apartment. But when spooky things begin to go bump in the night, Mia starts to lose her sanity and she believes that it’s somehow all connected to her new doll.

One of the laziest things for a horror movie to do is rely too heavily on jump scares. While they can be done effectively, nearly all the scares in Annabelle can be attributed to loud noises that cheaply try to startle the audience. Why do certain directors try to pass this off as being scary? Sure, they’ll make the audience jump, but it will be because of a reaction to a loud noise, not a true jump out of fear. Most of Wan’s efforts get their scares from the impressive makeup creations, disturbing imagery and sequences of almost unbearable suspense. This film has none of those things and it’s clear that Leonetti lacks the flair that it takes to make a great horror movie. What might be most offensive is how blatantly he rips off of Wan’s work. Obviously this is a spinoff of The Conjuring so some similarities are expected, but what Leonetti does is on a whole different level. From the design of the film’s primary creature to individual lines of dialogue, there’s hardly a scene here that doesn’t steal something from The Conjuring or Insidious.

The script by Gary Dauberman is purely perfunctory, crafting a predictable story that we’ve seen before and filling it with dull, uninteresting characters. Aside from the fact that they’re the main characters in the film, we’re never given much of a reason to care about John and Mia. Their performances certainly don’t help; Wallis brings a motherly warmth to her character, but isn’t given much else to do beyond looking frightened and Horton is incredibly bland and forgettable. The few side characters are even worse, popping up randomly without any rhyme or reason. Perhaps the most wasted potential lies in Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard; her character arrives too late into the film and the backstory that she’s given is so melodramatic that it borders on being laughable.

The film’s final scene is particularly offensive, ending in exactly the same way as The Conjuring. This final stinger just reiterates how uncreative and unoriginal of a film this is. It’s one thing to be inspired by a director’s past work, but it’s another thing to take what he does best and redo it in a completely uninteresting way. A sequence in a seemingly unmovable elevator is actually pretty interesting, but it’s the lone bright spot in a film that feels incredibly long, even with a relatively short 98 minute runtime. Everyone wants to see a great horror film when October rolls around, but Annabelle is definitely not that film.

Annabelle receives 1.5/4

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