Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The first audible response from the preview audience of critics was not a gasp of horror but a laugh when the Annabelle doll makes its first appearance. It is a proud present from loving young husband John (Ward Horton) to pregnant wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis) but the doll is so pig ugly it's laughable. There is excuse for John, however, in that his wife collects dolls and this historic number has been sought after for years. But there is no excuse for the filmmakers to foist this plastic version of the doll horror sub genre onto audiences with the flimsiest of associations with The Conjuring (d: James Wan, 2013) on which this director, John R. Leonetti was cinematographer. It feels like commercial exploitation ...
The overuse of flashing lights is always a sign of creative weakness in horror films (and many use it) as is the high volume slap sound scape and music. But nothing can make up for insipid characters who are two dimensional and unworthy of our attention, never mind sympathy.
John is finishing exams and about to take up an internship in 1970 Los Angeles while his wife is about to take up motherhood for the first time. It's no spoiler to record that John's internship at Palisades must have been the most lucrative in the US, judging by the size and accouterments of their new apartment, to which they move to get away from the devilish goings on in their Santa Monica pad at the start of the story.
Ward Horton is not given much by way of written character to work with, nor is poor Annabelle Wallis, the doll's unfortunate namesake who has to evoke fear (and not just of the screenplay) between long bouts of evoking expectant motherhood.
There are just a couple of really good scare scenes, one of them given away in the trailer, but they are not sufficient to satisfy horror genre buffs.
Horror is a distinguished genre, but its frighteningly challenging; the last couple that really, absolutely worked for me were Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) and Nicolas Roag's Don't Look Now (1973).