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Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton) with the Annabelle doll in the horror film “Annabelle.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton) with the Annabelle doll in the horror film “Annabelle.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
ArtsRancho Santa Fe

Film review: Horror film’s scares as wooden as the doll

Through its cast, “Annabelle” has its moments, but its ineffective jump scares and irregular focus on its poster doll quash its desire to horrify.

I mean, how can a doll instill fear and terror in a person, when you can just smash it to pieces with your bare hands?

I doubt I’ll understand, though I suspect that that unsuspecting aspect is what director John R.

Leonetti figured was useful in introducing the basic idea of how a married ‘70s couple comes into possession of a doll to give to their unborn child as a gift.

But that foundation quickly goes south after the next phase of the film’s premise — satanic cultists attacking the husband and wife, leaving more than just blood in their wake — turns out to be not-so scary as it declared. As gruesome as it looks, there’s little in the way of actual scares.

Come to think of it, hardly anything about “Annabelle” seems frightening.

I can’t say I’m surprised, because this is what happens when you rely on too many jump scares to get a reaction out of somebody. I’ve never been a fan of such an inefficient technique, and thus that renders the numerous strange happenings in this horror flick pointless.

And neither the occasional scene containing some suspense nor the rare instance in which a jump scare works can save “Annabelle” from surrendering to its own inner demons. Not the best way to go when you’re already plagued by problems, if you ask me.

Could this get any worse? Why, yes, it certainly can…and it does. For a film that supposedly revolves around a vintage doll that has some occult connection, the focus isn’t on said doll most of the time. Its prominence tended to appear at the beginning and toward the end, the latter of which was where things started to become scary.

By then, however, it was too late to repair the damage done.

Does this mean “Annabelle” is not the recommended horror film for this October?

It seems so, especially for those who are either not into scary flicks in general or perceive the idea of a sinister doll as absurd. That means there is no hope for its soul, right? Not necessarily.

The cast, though generic, is by no means a disappointment; I’ll give the acting its due as a result of the actors’ collective ability to give a care about what their characters are going through.

Annabelle Wallis is convincing enough when it comes to being loving and vulnerable, both as a wife and a mother.

Ward Horton proves to be adequate as the understanding and concerned spouse; same goes for Alfre Woodard as the couple’s friendly neighbor and Tony Amendola as their wise Catholic priest.

Like I said before, the actors are standard at best, but at least they manage to keep the film going whenever its horrific aspects don’t — which is pretty much all the time.

In addition, the period details and artwork is impressive, particularly the latter in terms of its well-studied diligence. How “Annabelle” failed to elicit the scares expected of a horror film, yet do fairly well in categories not considered first-priority, I’ll never know. Weird, isn’t it?

I’m no hardcore horror fan, but for those of you who are, I suggest you wait until “Annabelle” becomes available on the rental market.

Considering it’s a mixed bag — not half bad cast and unimpressive scares — you might want to save your money for the time being.

If you ask me, it’s nowhere near as genuinely nightmarish as “Oculus” was earlier this year.

MPAA rating: R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror.

Run time: 1 hour 38 minutes

Playing: In general release