I was raised on horror movies, and vividly remember classics starring Christopher Lee (Count Dracula) and Peter Cushing (Dr. Frankenstein) in the old Hammer Films. So I usually anticipate a new scary movie with extreme skepticism and low expectations.
"Annabelle", billed as a prequel to the successful "The Conjuring" from last year, contains some legitimate jolts. It also features a cast that does not emote, and that's its real strength.
Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton) are a young couple living in Missouri, awaiting the birth of their first child. The time is October 1970, about a year after the notorious Charles Manson cult murders of actress Sharon Tate and others. Mia and John are casually watching their analog television as accounts of the Manson crime are retold.
Before the birth of their daughter, Leah (who is totally adorable in the film), John surprises his wife with a doll that she has coveted. Named Annabelle, the doll is dressed in a white wedding dress and is placed in a prominent spot in the baby's room. The props are standard spooky fare --- a creaking rocking chair, music that plays by itself, a sewing machine with a mind of its own --- but well conceived.
Without revealing too much of "Annabelle" --- why spoil the film's surprises --- I can say that director John Leonetti and writer Gary Dauberman have borrowed liberally from past horror flicks like "The Ring", "The Exorcist", "Rosemary's Baby" and "Paranormal Activity". The results may not be original, but the pair have concocted an effective thriller. And the music by Joseph Bishara is unsettling, to say the least --- even during the closing credits.
The story builds slowly after a particularly startling beginning, and while slow may translate to dull for some moviegoers, I believe it's the best way to build up suspense for a big finish. If Wallis and Horton were less talented actors portraying terrified parents facing a supernatural dilemma, "Annabelle" would have been another laughable horror venture. And Alfre Woodard is quite adequate as a bookstore owner who befriends Mia. Bottom line, the movie held my interest, and evoked more than a few screams from the screening audience.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!