The problem with the modern horror these days lays in the production team not understanding what makes a terrifying age-old concept uniquely scary. Cursed and possessed dolls have existed for a long time, and there are many. Some are used as effigies for elemental spirits to inhabit to give them “life.” In other instances, they are used as representations of a greater force that the human mind can not understand.
In a real-life example of where the dolls are said to come to life to placate a young child, a lot can be experienced if the entire production team stayed overnight at Isla de las Munecas – The Island of the Dolls (located near Mexico City). If they did, the producers, writers and directors might have crafted an entirely different product. At least their experiences there would have seeped into the film a lot more than the premise of a cult murderer’s blood spilling upon a once beautiful Victorian age doll to make it haunted.
But nobody except the audience are aware that this deux et machina is what gets this film going. Otherwise, this movie is no better than a fond favourite to some paranormal enthusiasts. Another well known cursed object is Robert the Doll, where many folks find difficult to photograph.
In the cinematic and television front, the pilot episode of Friday the 13th, the TV Series (1987) did a better job with the cursed doll formula since it was a totemic reminder of how dolls were sometimes used in shamanic if not animistic ways. They can influence the living in unsettling tones. No, we’re not talking about Chucky from Child’s Play where killer Charles Lee Ray magically transferred his essence to a doll to continue his murderous rampage. Neither does this movie reference the Puppet Master series; the concept behind that film’s mystical creations required siphoning out a liquid at the base of the brain of a “donor” (it’s believed to contain the essence / soul ) and injecting it into a doll so the dead can live again.
This film reproduces the latter idea but it does not go far enough. Bram Stoker wrote in Dracula, “The blood is the life!” And it is this life-force of a crazed Annabelle Higgins that gives life to the inert doll that Mia Gordon (played by Annabelle Wallis) once loved. Mia is forced to learn who this Higgins is. In the film’s introduction, she is the daughter of their neighbours, the Higgins, whom has lost for a while. But when she abruptly returns and forces her way in to the household to assault them, that’s when the Gordon’s pristine world gets unsettled.
The chills offered are mild and the scares are modestly effective. Much of the creep factor comes from seeing how a pristine doll turns grey and her innocent eyes turn demonic. When compared to the real life Annabelle doll, a Raggedy Ann doll, most viewers will whole-heartedly agree to why the producers decided to change the appearance of the possessed item. A far more sinster design was much needed, and a different origin (completely made-up with only the name from the real life case remaining) was needed.
This doll can be compared to the Dibbuk Box said to contain an evil entity too. Although for this wine box, just how an evil force got there is not fully explained.
To make further comparisons, some avid readers may recall from the Harry Potter books that Voldemort (this serie’s main villain) destroyed his soul so parts of it can inhabit various innocent looking objects. But for the person in the know, these objects are now known as a Horcrux. Anyone who has seen the trailers of Annabelle will identify that once the blood seeped into the doll, just what it truly represents has changed. Anyone still holding it dear as a possession will get influenced by its innocuous energy.
This film is decent enough to get its folklore right up to a point. But as a horror film, it’s awfully generic by not presenting a story that’s properly ties in to The Conjuring, when the Annabelle doll was first presented. This film’s introduction just does not do enough to reveal how ownership has changed over the years, and it could have been edited out without ruining the actual story’s flow.
Instead, this film plays with church dogma to drive the plot in predictable patterns. Athough the pacing is satisfactory, the ending that was rushed in front of viewers needed more finessing. Not every movie has to follow the trope that The Exorcist successfully ended with. Rinse and repeat is not needed here.