John (Ward Horton) and Mia Gordon (Annabelle Wallis) are a young married couple expecting their first child living the good life in Santa Monica. The kind of life where John can come home with a surprise present for his wife: a rare doll in a wedding dress. But their dream life becomes a nightmare when their neighbors are brutally murdered by their daughter, a member of a satanic cult. The crazed daughter even attacks Mia, before police bolt in and save the day. Little does Mia know that before they died the satanists conjured a demon that has attached itself to Mia’s beloved doll, Annabelle. “Scary” things start to happen — the sewing machine runs on it own, the TV picture scrambles, and the stovetop turns on by itself — and after the birth of their baby the couple relocates to Pasadena where they have Alfre Woodard as a neighbor, but it doesn’t seem like they are able to get away from the sinister entity’s reach.
There are several problems with Annabelle, one being it’s not very scary. There are glimpses of potential, like when Mia is trapped in the apartment building’s basement area, but too often the scares are either lame (like the sewing machine) or characters seeing something that turns out not to be there or disappears moments later. Plus pretty much all of the moments of suspense or scares are all familiar tropes of the genre, with no new spins or takes on them. And the climax is disappointingly predictable and doesn’t feel big enough, not that the film had a steady build of any kind. It doesn’t help that much of the film relies on one character, Mia, and Annabelle Wallis is unable to do enough (not that she’s given much) to really hold your attention. The editing and direction don’t do any favors, and it’s like even the director was unclear about the story with far too many shots cutting to the creepy doll, but the doll itself is not demonic, it’s simply the home for the demon much like a shell for a crab. While it’s not as bad as Oculus, Annabelle isn’t doing many favors for itself and horror fans are better off skipping it.