I grew up during a golden age of scary dolls, like Chucky from “Child’s Play,” and Slappy from “Goosebumps.” For some reason, it was important for writers in the 80’s and 90’s to let children know their toys could murder them at any moment. This week, “Annabelle” seeks to keep that fine tradition of traumatizing kids alive and well for a new generation.
You might recognize the titular doll of “Annabelle” from her brief appearance in 2013s “The Conjuring.” Apparently, the make a movie with that one doll from that one scene in that one movie idea passes as brilliant in Hollywood meetings. Here we are exploring her origin story. Sort of, at least. This movie seems like it started with some generic haunted house script the studio had lying around, and they just found a way to shove an evil doll into it. Annabelle herself is an afterthought among the scary set-pieces and hokey Common Gateway Interface demons. She spends most of her time lying ominously while interesting things happen in her general vicinity. She displays none of the personality we have come to expect from our favorite evil dolls. You could have replaced her with a haunted tennis racket and it would not have changed things much.
Not that change would have been a bad thing. The story of “Annabelle” is lacking even the faintest sense of originality. If you have seen “The Conjuring,” “Insidious,” or “Sinister” you know exactly what you are going to get. The movie is stylishly shot and a handful of the scares are well-executed, but it is nothing more than an echo of a much better haunted movie. “Annabelle” is like the guy who posts a meme that was really funny the first ten times you saw it. The quality is there, it is just old.
Despite the unoriginality, I was going to take it easy on this movie because it is serviceable fun for the Halloween season, but any goodwill it earned was ruined by the bizarrely racist undertones of its second half. I will not go into many plot details to avoid spoilers, but I will mention the only black character in the movie is the local witch. Believe it or not, this ends up being the second most racist aspect of how she is written.
If you are looking for simple October scares, you could do worse, but frankly, you could also do better by scrolling through Netflix.
“Annabelle” gets five cash-grabbing spinoffs out of ten.