New Line's "Annabelle" is sure to scare audiences this weekend, but the horror film that is fighting with 20th Century Fox's "Gone Girl" for the top spot at the box office isn't impressing the majority of critics.
While married paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) do not return for the horror spinoff, the eponymous creepy doll does. And despite her critics, she delivers enough scares to win over TheWrap's Inkoo Kang, who found the doll's solo outing to be flawed, but spooky.
"The late-60's Satanic panic and housewifely ennui make for a surprisingly complementary mix of fear and paranoia in 'Annabelle,' the prequel to last year's horror hit 'The Conjuring,'" Kang wrote in her review. "Though it's not without concessions to formula, a sheen of glamour and a stab at real drama distinguish this persistently spooky tale of one woman's private helter-skelter."
Los Angeles Times critic Robert Abele was one of the few who agreed that "Annabelle" is worth seeing, even if it's not as good as the film that inspired it.
"When hubby brings home a child-sized doll that resembles a stunted psych-ward drag queen, it really shouldn't go on the shelf in the nursery," wrote Abele. "But this is why we go to horror films -- to manage our nerves tracking the doomed -- and 'Annabelle' works enough devil figurine juju to make for a modestly hair-raising prequel.
"It lacks the exhilarating pull of 'The Conjuring,' but as a side dish of demon-doll supernatural, it suffices," he concluded.
Entertainment Weekly critic Kyle Anderson was on the opposite end of the spectrum, giving "Annabelle" an "F" for being a "deeply insulting prequel."
"The only thrill-building tool in 'Annabelle's' kit involves things jumping out at you and making a loud noise, but you're better off watching those YouTube videos that do the exact same thing," Anderson wrote. "Sadly, horror fans seeking wide-release mainstream films are stuck with 'Annabelle,' a poorly conceived jumble of half-baked pretension executed entirely without joy for the benefit of the easily bamboozled. For a superior experience, go buy a disturbing-looking doll that says 'Don't go see 'Annabelle'' when you pull its string."
A.V. Club A.A. Dowd critic was more kind to "Conjuring" cinematographer John R. Leonetti's turn in the director's chair, but still noticed it "plunders relentlessly from other movies" that have made audiences jump in fright, and called it a "shameless cash grab."
"Billed as a spin-off of 'The Conjuring,' the film operates more like a shoddy brand extension; it cost five times less than its predecessor, and the slashed budget shows -- both in the economy casting and in the over-lit, sometimes hideous digital imagery," Dowd wrote. "But as a blunt object, a machine built to put nerves on edge and fingers over eyes, 'Annabelle' is still crudely (and cruelly) effective. Fear comes cheap."
Those scares that might make the cost of admission worth it for some did not, however, win over USA Today critic Claudia Puig.
"A couple of jolts don't make for much of a supernatural thriller, and 'Annabelle' has only fleeting jump-in-your-seat moments. It tries to crib from 'The Omen' and 'Rosemary's Baby,' even going so far as to name the pregnant lead character Mia. A tribute, most likely, to 'Rosemary's' star Mia Farrow," Puig wrote. "Few surprises loom, however, in this ho-hum flick. Several plot threads go nowhere. And slowly."
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Arizona Republic critic Bill Goodykoontz found "Annabelle" scary "in places," but argues a few scares can't sustain an entire movie.
"Screenwriter Gary Dauberman throws in elements of a ghost story here, a demon there, just whatever might be scary. And some of it is, but all in that cheap, quick-cutting way that makes you jump and, yes, sometimes scream. But the scares don't stay with you. They're the horror movie equivalent of junk food," Goodykoontz wrote. "Thus, so is 'Annabelle,' where 'The Conjuring' was more of a full meal. 'Annabelle' just leaves you hungry for more.