Too much "demon" and not enough "creepy doll"

At least according to my friend, JR, after seeing Annabelle

Let's talk, shall we? Billed as a pseudo-prequel to The Conjuring and expounding on the opening sequence from it, 'Annabelle' is only a slightly better horror movie than its predecessor; and only a slightly worse movie overall.

'Annabelle' has the same tone, feel and emotion throughout it as 'The Conjuring' - the colors are muted and earthy, it takes place in the somewhat ambiguous fifties/sixties-ish time frame and the characters are all, surprisingly, likeable. I liked the couple, even though the husband was brave/handsome/smart/compassionate enough that I totally didn't believe he existed anywhere outside of a Jane Austen novel and the wife was impossibly skinny both with child and post-with-child. The acting is consistent and the effects are not flashy or gimmicky, so they have a more believably ring to them. The story comes full circle, with a happy ending for the white, successful (and, I'll say it, totally culturally ignorant), middle-class couple and their infant daughter.

All's cool.

Except nothing is new. Like, at all. I won't lie, there were some genuinely creepy moments and you can really see how the success of Insidious has rubbed off on a lot on the forthcoming US horror releases. The demon in 'Annabelle' is highly reminiscent of the specter in both those films, both in appearance and behavior (if you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about). But what this film lacks is the potent uniqueness that came from such a light, airy, campy-yet-creepy film like 'Insidious'. A great deal of what made it so effective and so enjoyable (for horror fans, at least) was how well it mixed the retro-type scares of dramatic make-up and smoke machines with an inventive and emotional storyline (and added a small amount of dry humor, too). It was a breath of fresh air for horror fans - not just because it threw off the shackles of recent CGI-obsession, but because it didn't take itself seriously. Director James Wan clearly knew what a horror movie should be and - more importantly, what it should not be - and he played happily within those confines. It was so liberating to watch a horror movie in a theater without feeling manipulated into feeling something outlandish (I'm looking in your direction, 'The Unborn') or even without just being bored.

Here's one of the things that I love about horror as a genre: you can find a movie to be a good horror movie, but still recognize that it's not anything great in terms of cinema ('The Grudge'). Other side of the coin, you can find a good film (like 'The Conjuring') that has a cohesive, relatively tight story and characters that doesn't exactly do much in the way of terror. Every once in awhile you'll come across a rare gem that hits both nails evenly ('A Tale of Two Sisters', 'Kairo' or 'Pan's Labyrinth'), but those are few and far between. As a horror aficionado, I live for the last type, but I am honestly incredibly happy if I can find out that fits the second; but if I can find a flick that truly terrifies me - even if it's not anything critics call worthy - I'm over the moon.

Which leaves 'Annabelle'. It has some decent scares. And that fact coupled with the now-practically-cliched, tried-and-true James Wan style and tone, makes it a horror movie of a caliber that Hollywood doesn't trend towards lately. But it's not great; it's almost good. But the premise, the style, the setting, the story... they're all too boring to be combined into anything spectacular. So the passable amount of scares that you'll experience barely make up for the fact that everything that takes place in between is entirely, mind-numbingly predictable.