Bobby Shipman

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The first big horror flick of the scare season bolstered a few unconventional terror tactics but stayed predominantly glued to a porcelain-plain storyline that felt generic.

John R. Leonetti’s “Annabelle” tells the story of a demonically possessed doll first featured in “The Conjuring,” which is based on the paranormal investigations of real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. According to reports from the Warrens, the Annabelle doll was actually a Raggedy Anne doll that haunted two nurses who lived together.

Leonetti’s version did not come close to matching the level of terror “The Conjuring” achieved.

The movie depicts an young couple, Mia and John (Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton), as they prepare to have their first child. After an attack by a pair of ravenous satanists, they begin to experience paranormal occurrences centered around a vintage baby doll.

From that point on the movie follows a fairly standard haunted house storyline as it slugs along between scares with ultimately no character development. But when the jolts get ya’; they get ya’–particularly in a nail-biting scene with a horned demon and a frustratingly fickle elevator.

There were a few other surprisingly charming qualities to “Annabelle” that impressed me. The first was the casting of Alfre Woodard, who provided the only gripping, well-acted character arch—besides, maybe, the baby. I found it hard to get scared anytime baby Lea came on the screen, simply because she was completely adorable and quite the screen-stealer with her cute giggles and untimely raspberries that detracted from the film’s seriousness.

My favorite touches to the film were the references to the fantastically disturbing 1968 Roman Polanski horror classic “Rosemary’s Baby,” whose lead actress, Mia Farrow, shares the name with the main mother in the film. Both Mia’s also touted identically ominous baby carriages. Accidental homage? I think not.

“Annabelle” is a fairly frightening flick that will make a descent October movie-going endeavor, but won’t resonate with viewers for more than an hour–unless they have an irrational fear of dolls.

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