by Sarah A. Peterson
Special coupon for Dinuba Platinum Theatre at the end of this review.
Her face would inspire dread in even the most avid of doll collectors. With maniacal-looking glass eyes and a blood-red slit for a mouth, the eponymous star of the horror film Annabelle would fit in better at an asylum for the criminally insane than in a baby’s nursery.
But a nursery is exactly where the demonic doll turns up.
A spin-off of (and prequel to) last year’s The Conjuring, the 1960s-set Annabelle centers around the married John and Mia Gordon (Ward Horton and ironically, Annabelle Wallis), who are about to become new parents. John presents his pregnant wife with a supposedly rare and expensive doll to make up for his long hours away from the house as a newly practicing doctor. But with the doll’s arrival, their American dream quickly shatters.
One night their neighbors the Higgins (Brian Howe and Kerry O’Malley) are brutally murdered by their crazed hippie daughter Annabelle (Tree O’Toole) and her equally insane boyfriend (Trampas Thompson), members of Satanic cult Disciples of the Ram. Police gun down the boyfriend, but not before he breaks in and stabs the expecting Mia.
And when Annabelle is discovered dead of an apparent suicide in the nursery, clutching the now bloodstained doll, the stage is set for the supernatural mayhem to come.
And come it does. The scares slowly and steadily build to a fever pitch over the course of the film, from the time Mia is put on bed-rest through the baby’s arrival and the couple’s eventual move to an apartment.
First-time director John R. Leonetti (cinematographer of The Conjuring) makes the most of the low budget through the use of effective timing and expert cinematography, wringing the macabre from the mundane.
A rocking chair rocks squeakily of its own accord, the doll’s feet dangling over the edge. A package of popcorn bulges menacingly on the stove before bursting into flames. News of the Manson Family drifts from the TV as a sewing machine comes to life in the middle of the night.
And John and Mia’s escape from house to apartment only serves to make matters worse. After Mia is attacked by the bloody apparition of the dead Annabelle, bookstore owner Evelyn (Alfre Woodard) steps forward to help the traumatized wife and mother find a root to the evil.
The genuine warmth and camaraderie of their friendship gives surprising depth not often found in horror films. The two ruminate on death and maternal sacrifice over tea and Satanic tomes before realizing the demon possessing the doll seeks the soul of baby Lea.
Breathless terror is what ensues, as the demon stalks Mia across the apartment building’s darkened basement, as the doll levitates by a moonlit window.
Reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, Annabelle effectively draws on the Satanic cult hysteria of the 1960s and 1970s to set the backdrop for a truly scary time at the movies.
The Halloween season has started with a bang.
Annabelle is currently playing at Dinuba Platinum Theatres 6, also in 3D. Showtimes can be found on their website. Platinum Theaters Dinuba 6 now proudly presents digital quality films in 2-D and 3-D with 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound to maximize your movie experience.