Annabelle fulfills everything token about the horror genre. It’s got a nuclear family that’s a labrador away from blissful glee, a suspicious-looking priest who may or may not be a stereotype, and a Chuckie-esque doll that only cements my fear of small girls. We’re talking 100% commitment here, with every aspect so desperate to remind you of itself, just in case, dear viewer, you start thinking it’s an educational video for baby-safety.
It doesn’t help, nor admittedly detract much, that every character is as interesting as a muesli bar. There’s the devoted husband who bends ever so lovingly to attend to the needs of his wife; there’s the protective matriarch driven by every urge of motherhood to keep her child safe from unknown forces, and then there’s the altruistic priest who might also be the kind to like playgrounds and Sith rituals, yet is surprisingly free of dark magic motives, despite a massive undercurrent to the contrary.
Annabelle doesn’t stray far from the road well-trodden. It even succumbs to convention-temptation with nefarious cults as a catalyst for Annabelle’s inception. The remainder of the first-half is a proficient escalation in tension, with a house that’s gradually more haunted by aggressive china, rocking-chairs and flying literature.
But horror is only horror because the mind fills in the blanks with every horrible hypothetical. It’s key is to use the over-active imagination by giving us enough time to think and conceptualise – then the deed comes onscreen and it’s not so bad. And it’s hard to do that when the menace and its motive are revealed. I can’t be scared witless when I know what it wants, because with motive comes a pattern, and with a pattern comes rationality – and there’s no trepidation in reason.
Though Annabelle has the creativity of a dead person, it’s the kind of film that finds Metacritic sanctuary for it. Following the tried ‘n true doesn’t give you free-parking on Competent Station. The more something is used, the easier it is to criticize for the familiar-factor. But it can ensure you don’t blunder a failed experiment, which is a shame, ’cause that’s the only way to advance. As it is, Homicidal Barbie Doll makes a good sales pitch for the tropes of horror and why they work, along with a few narrative mumbles.