This review is of the TV-14 edited version of the movie. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative
Annabelle was so big that she got an origin story which is impressive since that doesn’t seem to happen very often unless you’re a really big character. I guess that fits the bill for her at this point though, she has earned that reputation. The film pretty much plays out as you would expect but in this case almost all of the characters are kids so there isn’t a whole lot that they can do against Annabelle. The film could have used a few more grown-ups to try and make the fights more interesting.
The movie starts with Samuel and Esther losing their kid Annabelle in a tragic hit by a car. Many years later they’ve decided to open up their home as a shelter for a bunch of kids who are homeless after the orphanage was removed. This group is led by Sister Charlotte and the place is quite large so they’re happy here. Samuel is rather withdrawn and his wife Esther never allows them to see or talk to her but…well it’s a place to live. The main problem is that strange things begin to happen here.
The main kid is Janice and she has a tough time walking due to illness so she has to use a cane everywhere. Naturally since you’re watching a horror film you know this puts her at a big disadvantage right out of the gate. She is told that the whole house is good to walk through except for one closed door. You are not to go in there under any circumstances but of course Janice does go in there and opens up the door which had been locking out the evil demon for a long time now. Annabelle is now on the loose and she wants to take over Janice’s body. Can this kid stop the demon or is it game over?
That’s the question which limits the film’s potential a bit when you think about it. Of course the kids can’t do anything against Annabelle. Even the adults are usually rather helpless against such a threat but with the kids it just feels a little too one sided. In general kids are rarely very interesting characters in film so I prefer when they take a back seat. Having them here 24/7 as the leads wasn’t the best idea if you ask me.
Most of the kids are also just annoying. You have the classic bullies who are mean to Janice because she can’t walk properly like they can. Janice only has one true friend in Linda but the others are as petty as possible and you can expect that they won’t be doing very well against Annabelle either. I at least liked Linda who had Janice’s back from the start. Her best moment is definitely when she decided to take charge and ran outside with the doll in order to throw it into the pit of no return. It was a brave thing for a kid to do and took a lot of guts considering the powers it had. Things almost got dicey for Linda since she sure was taking her time closing the lid but that was a good moment.
As for Sister Charlotte, she did well in what was a pretty lousy situation all around. There’s only so much she could do with the orphanage being destroyed and I’m sure it was a lot of work to find a suitable house that would work for everyone. The owners may not have been the best people around but at least they did have a place for the group. Charlotte also did her best to keep the kids in line, they just didn’t make it easy on her.
Samuel has to be one of the worst characters here and of course the same is true of Esther. They absolutely knew about the demon and yet they decided to open this place as a shelter? I don’t care if it was purified several times, the demon was still around which is why the door was closed. Allowing the kids into the building was negligent. If you absolutely wanted to atone and do good by the world, at least find a way to get the priests to completely destroy the building or the demon within the doll. Sealing it away isn’t actually removing the problem.
Then Samuel is also completely oblivious to what’s going on. I feel like it’s intentional but when Janice and the others start talking about weird things happening, he doesn’t seem to care. “Samuel, your wife visited us in the middle of the night!” “Gee, I don’t think so, she’s still in her room….” Samuel knows well and good that she was in the room which means that it was the demon or some kind of supernatural thing going on. By the time he’s actually ready to help it’s way too late. I also thought he was rather cold to the kids for no reason. If he’s still torn up about the past then perhaps inviting the orphanage was not a good idea.
Likewise, Esther is just hiding out in her room the whole time. You have to at least meet the kids, this just makes the experience a little creepy for them. The doll mask seemed to cover her face rather well so just use that and meet up with everyone. Otherwise she really isn’t doing anything to help the cause and is just holding the experience back. That said, I still wasn’t expecting her end to be quite so violent, Annabelle was not holding back here.
In general I wouldn’t say the film is super violent though. Moments of Annabelle shredding everyone is typically rare and the film has a ton of build up. Things don’t really start happening until it’s nearly time to end. We do get one barfing moment from the villain which is always a rather crude way to take possession. I prefer going with the smoke method personally or something like that.
We do get to connect this to the first ending in a way similar to Rogue One so that was interesting. Of course you feel bad for the new characters even if you do know what is going to ultimately happen to them. It’s the kind of twist ending you’re expecting though and even if you haven’t seen the first film it would work in that sense. I did like that we got to see more of Annabelle’s true demon form here though. It certainly looks intense and could probably hold its own movie in that form as well. Now that’s a figure that you wouldn’t want to have to fight.
The special effects in the film are pretty solid. There’s a lot going on and it’s always visually interesting. More so than the movie at times but that’s how it goes. It’s definitely one of those futile movies where the characters never have any shot at directly stopping the villain and just have to try and survive. I think the movie would be more interesting if the characters could be aged up so they could at least try thinking of plans. That’s a staple of the big horror movies even if the plans usually don’t work out. You at least want to see the characters trying some options but that doesn’t really happen here.
Overall, I thought this was a little better than the average horror film and the kids could have been worse. Linda gets a lot of props for actually trying to help out and take Annabelle down. Janice gets considerably less points here because it felt like she kept on adding to the trouble by going where she wasn’t supposed to and all that. You do feel bad for her since she can’t just run and escape the way most main characters could though. The film’s a slow burn but with kids as the focus it’s not as engaging as it could have been. I’d say this is a safe skip.