Not since Chucky has a doll been so terrifying. And Annabelle needs no walking, talking or cleaver to make a viewer clutch at the couch in the throes of feargasms. That’s right, I said feargasms. No, it’s not technically a word. Yet.
Annabelle is a vintage doll given as a gift from a husband to his collector wife. Amongst the woman’s countless other dolls, Annabelle stands out as an undeniably creepy creation from the moment she appears. Then the doll is infected with the spirit of a satanic cultist and all bets are off. Creep factor is through the roof and nasty paranormal activity fills the couple’s house and proceeds to destroy their lives.
The director, John R. Leonetti, does an excellent job of immediately establishing and maintaining tension throughout the movie, creating a truly terrifying atmosphere using classic horror techniques: sharp soundtrack, silences, shadows and toying with the unknown. The well-tested tactic of turning a symbol of innocence (the doll) and a setting which usually represents safety (the home) into a malicious entity and a space filled with fear, pain and monsters, is employed expertly by Leonetti, proving once again that the familiar is far more powerful than any ‘spooky’ alternative (such as an insane asylum or abandoned warehouse) can be.
And a chicken nugget to those viewers who have followed the Insidious films: Leonetti, the director of the first Insidious, has incorporate elements of intertextuality. Viewers may feel a sense of recognition when seeing Annabelle for the first time. This would be because she features in the Insidious stories as the mysterious doll locked within a glass box with a warning to never be removed. As a viewer who loves a bit of crossover between narratives, this was a fantastic touch, adding depth to the worlds of Insidious and Annabelle and giving the impression of a much larger story unfolding.
Overall, Annabelle was terrifying, but far from cheap thrills. Annabelle gets under the viewer’s skin and sticks around, unsettling a viewer well after the credits roll.