Remember that freaky doll "Annabelle" from last year's The Conjuring? John R. Leonetti's horror thriller fills in her backstory in this prequel, set in Los Angeles in 1970. The very pregnant Mia (Annabelle Wallis) is given a doll that then proceeds to haunt the family. That's it, really, filled out with jump-out scares; nods to Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and Helter Skelter; and one supernatural playing of "Cherish."
The film has some effective scenes that ratchet up the tension (a close-up of fingers near a hammering sewing machine needle is worse than any shadowy demon), and I appreciate how Leonetti lets some scenes breathe. But overall, Annabelle needs a better and more coherent narrative.
The story gives short shrift to another and more obvious source — the deep anxiety and psychological turmoil potentially faced by a new mother. (A better movie could have dialed back the we-see-it-too reality of the demon doll, and made Mia's beliefs more subjective, and possibly rooted in her own anxieties.)
For an origin story, who or what or why "Annabelle" is is unclear, and this movie is simply tacked onto The Conjuring in a clunky epilogue. And beware: Annabelle's prologue could be the teaser for the inevitable sequel to this prequel.