ALL IN ALL, 2013's The Conjuring was a surprisingly decent horror flick. Based on the true story of demon-fighting couple Ed and Lorraine Warren, it felt like a throwback: Creaking doors, jump scares, and exorcisms, without much novelty or modern spin, proved they stood the test of time. Amid lower expectations comes the prequel Annabelle, and like The Conjuring, it covers little new ground. It might not be as glamorous as its big sister—Conjuring star Vera Farmiga is nowhere to be seen—but it has a few nail-chewing moments of its own.
The titular Annabelle is an insanely creepy-looking doll in a white dress—one of the film's most challenging demands might be suspending the disbelief that anyone would pay money for it. The film takes place in late-'60s Southern California, where members of a Manson-esque cult are on the rampage. After they strike at the home of expectant young couple Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton), the doll the couple placed in the nursery becomes possessed.
What follows is standard stuff: unexplained movements and creepy omens pile up with increasing intensity. But while the subject matter is superficially rote, the execution is sound, and it's easy to get swept away in progressively more intense scenes. (A particular episode that begins in a basement is downright unmerciful.)
Like haunted corn mazes and campfire stories, a little willingness here goes a long way: If you want to treat Annabelle as a challenge, in the "you can't scare me" sense, fine. It's destructible. But if you're gonna buy the ticket, I suggest you take the ride. If you do, Annabelle's good for another round of creepy, old-fashioned thrills.