Horror filmmakers are terrible at putting away childish things – least of all creepy Annabelle, a doll with burning eyes and skin the slightest hint of rotting green. She’s been sprung from her glass case in 2013’s ‘The Conjuring’ for this underwhelming prequel. Everything organic from James Wan’s retro smash feels aggressively ‘vintage’ and showy in this film directed by his cameraman, John R Leonetti. Set in a Charles Manson-spooked 1969, it stars a young couple, Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton), who – if you haven’t guessed it from their names – are about to live through their own ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.
An electrifying early scare sets the bar way too high, as the doting Santa Monica couple awaken to the screams of neighbours – Amy calls the police and we notice their home is invaded too, by murderous hippies who stab her in the abdomen. Fortunately the baby is fine. The mother is haunted by the memory, though, and so is the script, piling on laughable bumps in the night, creaky rocking chairs, a demon-infested basement and more gliding baby prams than an ’80s Brian De Palma film. Regardless, Mia makes room for the doll Annabelle on the shelf, like the world’s most bizarre collector.
The title character is an impressive piece of propwork, and Leonetti’s restraint in never animating it like Chucky in ‘Child’s Play’ is a good thing. Meanwhile, the human beings feel as plastic as Barbie dolls.