The Thing I Like About …

Annabelle: the doll never does anything.

Annabelle is a large doll with glass eyes and a painted face … and a spirit that possesses her. People who own the doll report significant paranormal disturbances and a sensation of an evil presence. A psychic tells one of the owners that the spirit is a girl whose parents have died, and that the girl loves Annabelle and wants to stay with her.

Perhaps this “girl” is the evil presence, or perhaps there is an additional entity that brings something darker to the party. Maybe the whole thing is just in the overactive imaginations of the people who became spooked by Annabelle’s staring glass eyes. Maybe the current owner – a young mother who’s experienced a recent trauma – is just overwhelmed by hormones and emotions and memories; maybe she’s just concocting the whole thing in her head.

But the audience soon sees that something supernatural really is going on. Things around Annabelle are altered in strange and unpleasant ways, and the atmosphere is decidedly threatening. And the camera lets us know the source of this unpleasantness: the increasingly creepy face of the doll, whose eyes we assume will blink at any moment, whose head we assume will turn back and forth of its own accord, whose little doll feet will no doubt be heard scampering all over the hard-wood floors. But … we watch Annabelle for the whole length of the movie, and our tension builds, and we get more and more creeped out by the staring and the waiting and the unknown that we expect …

… and Annabelle never moves. She never blinks. She never turns or twists or walks or talks or anything. The only times she moves, she’s being held and moved by others. The supernatural things going on very quickly reveal themselves to be about whatever spirit has attached itself to the doll; rather than some kind of physical possession that allows Annabelle to be alive or animated, the possession is emotional, bringing the spirits into the house with the doll like a bad smell that won’t go away.

So why, even at the end of the film, are we still looking at her porcelain face and waiting – with our hands cupped over our eyes – for her to move? Even after we’ve identified the danger and dealt with it, why are we still waiting to see something in that doll?

Because we want to.

Not because it’s a horror movie, and we as an audience expect creepy things to happen, but because even in our actual lives, we think about the things that frighten or spook or disturb us … and we wait for it to happen. We almost want it to happen, just to resolve the growing tension of waiting for it to happen. We almost want it to happen.

We watch horror movies so that all these things that we fear can happen in a controlled environment – because somehow they need to happen, but we don’t really want them to. We just want a release from that tension, from the daily fear of everything that could go wrong. And we put all our eggs into one basket – the doll Annabelle – because that way, we’ve isolated the object of our fears into one convenient package, and if we can “stop” Annabelle, then we can “stop” all our fears in one fell swoop. We can imagine that all the fears in our hearts actually reside in this doll, and once it’s “dealt with” then our fears will go away … one Annabelle at a time.

But in truth, Annabelle is only a doll, even within the story. In truth, the evil presence attached to the doll is something separate and amorphous and enormous, connected to horrors the heroine couldn’t even really contemplate. In truth, no matter what dangers we face, it isn’t the doll that’s the problem. It’s the way we sit there, with our hands cupped over our eyes, building up our store of tension and dread, illogically wishing for the things we fear to “just happen already.” It’s the way that we put our fears into the things around us, and wait for them to live up to our expectations.

In truth, we bring the fears, and Annabelle just sits and stares at us, until the very, very end.

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