'Annabelle': What the Critics Are Saying

John R. Leonetti's 'Conjuring' prequel centers on a creepy doll haunting a cast of unknowns

Annabelle, out on Friday, zooms in on a supremely creepy doll that haunts its cast of unknowns. A prequel to last year's hit The Conjuring (which starred Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor and grossed $318 million worldwide), director John R. Leonetti and producers Peter Safran and James Wan depend on Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Tony Amendola and Alfre Woodard to deliver the scares.

New Line's horror spinoff — also at the center of a tangled, Conjuring sequel-related lawsuit — is tracking to open to $25 million or better this coming weekend, opposite David Fincher's adaptation of the twist-filled thriller, Gone Girl.

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Read what top critics are saying about Annabelle:

The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck warns that " cheap jolts are provided by an errant sewing machine, a record player spinning The Association’s hit "Cherish," heavy books, a malfunctioning elevator and even an unattended Jiffy Pop popcorn pan. The filmmakers literally throw in everything but the kitchen sink ... but Annabelle is no Chucky." Even more so, "Gary Dauberman’s haphazard screenplay merely piles on the cheap scares, with director Leonetti cranking the volume up to 11 to accentuate the frequent jolts. It all adds up to a compendium of horror movie cliches, including fleeting images of a demon-like figure.

"Despite the gimmicky nature of the proceedings, they’re undeniably effective, especially in a packed theater filled with genre fans essentially begging to be terrified. But the film is ultimately so generic and formulaic that you’ll probably forget it by the time you get home. Equally unmemorable are the bland performances by the two leads, who never manage to elicit the necessary sympathy for their characters’ plight."

The New York Times' Ben Kenigsberg neutrally notes that "the best scares in Annabelle involve tricks of the eye," but the prequel "seems less confident when it comes to its secondhand plot, which includes such standbys as self-shutting doors and self-popping popcorn. ... But, as the introductory title card explains, haunted dolls have been around “since the beginning of civilization,” which leaves room for Annabelle to pop up many times again."

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Los Angeles Times' Robert Abele writes, "Annabelle works enough devil figurine juju to make for a modestly hair-raising prequel to the more satisfying scares of its predecessor," as Leonetti "loves the spooky stuff but isn't great with actors. Then again, nobody here — not even Alfre Woodard as the friendly bookstore owner — has anything as meaty as what Lili Taylor and Vera Farmiga got to play with. ... It lacks the exhilarating pull of The Conjuring but as a side dish of demon-doll supernatural, it suffices."

Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips gives the film two-and-a-half stars, because "as prequels go, it's not bad," but "it looks like cheap digital crud" shot "on dirt-cheap equipment that turns every image, every scene into a weirdly subconscious exercise in viewer resistance. The other big drawback is simply premise fatigue, leading to low-level audience exasperation." Still, Leonetti "suggests a director of promise, though at this point his facility for sudden violence isn't yet there."

The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan says it's "a disappointingly derivative dish" that "borrows a little too liberally from the dog-eared demon-doll cookbook, serving up a platter of half-baked cliches, ... all spiced up with lazy jump scares of the sort that have been used a hundred times before." Altogether, "it has its unnerving moments, but they’re outweighed by the sheer stupidity and predictability of the story. It’s not a movie for connoisseurs of horror, but for more susceptible sorts, those content with a fast-food approach to fearmongering."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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