John R. Leonetti (The Butterfly Effect 2) throws everything but the kitchen sink into this prequel to The Conjuring. Doors close by themselves. Music swells suddenly for no reason. A sewing machine turns itself on in the middle of the night, requiring a character to get out of bed and turn it off.
Which smacks more of inconvenience than terror in my book. Lots of threadbare genre tropes are deployed in this meatheaded money grab. The bottom line? That kitchen sink probably would have proved scarier than most of them. Hey, the garbage disposal could've turned itself on.
Certainly that's where Annabelle belongs. There's barely an engaging minute in this derivative drivel about a California couple whose lives are turned upside down in 1969 by the sort of events you've seen countless times in better films.
It begins with perhaps the most ridiculous coincidence in movie history: Medical student John Gordon (the affordable Ward Horton) and his pregnant wife, Mia (budget-friendly Annabelle Wallis), catch a TV news report concerning the Manson murders. Guess what happens next? Yup, a bunch of satanic hippies break in and assault them. What are the odds?
Luckily, John and Mia survive. Their baby girl is born showing no sign of trauma. The violence did leave its mark on one of the home's occupants, though. To the extent it's about anything, Annabelle is about how a satanic hippie girl took a police bullet while slumped over one of the hideous dolls in Mia's never-explained hideous doll collection, and a drop of the girl's satanic blood dripped into its eye, turning it evil.
You know Annabelle's evil because, in addition to being hideous (where'd they buy this thing — Demonic Dolls "R" Us?), she just happens to be nearby whenever something supernatural happens. Prepare yourself for the shock of your life when Mia walks into the baby's room and — ready? — the doll is sitting in a rocking chair ... and it's rocking!
After a couple of hair-raising incidents like that, John tosses Annabelle out with the trash, but — can you take another shock so soon? — she later reappears in the house! Leonetti's film ultimately chronicles not so much a contest between good and evil as one between evil and stupidity.
Even after John and Mia know the doll is the devil's plaything, they still keep it in the child's room — on a shelf directly overlooking the crib. It's a miracle this toy doesn't take out the entire family. The couple does everything possible to help it. Eventually you almost root for the hideous thing, because Mom and Dad are too stupid to live.
I already mentioned that Annabelle stars mostly unknowns. It was made for next to nothing. Here's where things actually do get frightening: More gratuitous, originality-free follow-ups to The Conjuring are guaranteed, owing to the phenomenon of the global box office. These days, a movie doesn't need to do well in the States to make a killing. The ticket line stretches around the planet.
Hollywood practically has a license to print money. A movie that does so-so business in dozens of countries today is the same thing as a movie that sold out U.S. theaters a couple of decades ago. Flops make people multimillionaires every day.
So the next time you watch something as half-assed as Annabelle and find yourself thinking, Gee, it's almost like nobody even tried, you'll understand why nobody did. In the movie biz today, there's no reason to knock yourself out. Not a reason in the world.