by Ted Giese
Annabelle is the follow-up to James Wan’s horror film The Conjuring. This time out, Wan is a producer and not the director; Annabelle is directed by Wan’s cinematographer from The Conjuring, John R. Leonetti. The Conjuring introduced viewers to a creepy doll named Annabelle who terrorized a couple of young nursing students in the 1970s.This b-plot (allegedly based on a true story) proved so popular it garnered the production of Annabelle, a film detailing the origins of the possessed doll.
Annabelle is set in 1970. The film’s central young couple, Mia and John, are expecting their first child and experience a tragedy as their next-door neighbours are brutally murdered and they too are assaulted by the murderers. One of the murderers is the neighbours’ estranged daughter, who is a member of a satanic cult. While barricaded in the baby’s room at Mia and John’s house, the estranged daughter—named Annabelle—commits suicide while holding an antique doll purchased by John for his wife.
What follows is the story of Mia and her family dealing with the ghost of the estranged girl Annabelle trapped in the vintage doll. Along the way they engage the help of their Roman Catholic priest, Father Perez, and a local book store owner who befriends Mia. It’s determined that the doll isn’t haunted by a ghost but rather is controlled by a demon who wants to steal souls. By the end of the film the doll has changed hands, potentially setting things up for yet another film.
A Christian Response
Many people simply avoid these sorts of films altogether, and in no way is this review a recommendation to run out and see it. However, the film raises questions about the supernatural and evil. Although Annabelle and The Conjuring provide answers to supernatural questions concerning death, demons, and the nature of evil, do the views expressed by the filmmakers match what Christians believe, teach, and confess?
Let’s look at death first. Annabelle presents a world view where, on some level, the dead can remain in the world as ghosts. While this concept is mentioned in Scripture (Matthew 14:26),the Bible itself doesn’t teach it as the natural state of things after death (Hebrews 9:27). Other than agreeing with the biblical teaching that the spirit of the deceased leaves the body (Ecclesiastes 12:7), Annabelle doesn’t present a Christian view of death, even if it is set in an ostensibly Roman Catholic milieu. The film’s depiction of spirits has more in common with Animist religion, as popularized by movies like Ju-on: The Grudge or Ringu: Ring.
Annabelle doesn’t present a Christian view of death, even if it is set in an ostensibly Roman Catholic milieu. The film’s depiction of spirits has more in common with Animist religion.
When it comes to demons, Annabelle starts hitting a little closer to the biblical mark. In the end, what’s standing behind the doll isn’t a “ghost” but rather a demon. The film is a little vague as to the relationship between the demon and the ghost but it is clear the demon is the true threat. It’s never clear whether the ghost is controlled by the demon or if the ghost is an illusion created by the demon.
Martin Luther in the Smalcald Articles notes that “evil spirits have produced many wicked tricks by appearing as the souls of the departed, and with unspeakable lies and tricks demanded Masses, vigils, pilgrimages, and other alms.” In Annabelle,the demon demands a soul to devour, but the catch is that the soul can’t be taken, it has to be offered up. Father Perez warns the couple that the devil is a deceiver, that the demon is attempting to deceive them into offering their souls, and that demons are hungry for souls to devour. This echoes what Scripture says when Satan is described as “the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9)—”a murderer from the beginning” and “the father of lies” (John 8:44), who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).
An Eternal Battle between Good and Evil
Let us turn now to the question of evil. What does Annebelle have to say about this problem? Behind the doll lies a deranged suicidal ghost; behind the ghost, a demon; and behind the demon, evil. Scripturally speaking, demons are described as standing behind idols with people making sacrifices to them (Deuteronomy 32:17, 1 Corinthians 10:20). In Annabelle the demon is both evil and demands sacrifice.
However, the film misrepresents evil when Father Perez says, “Evil is constant. You cannot destroy what was never created.” Scripture teaches that evil is at its core disobedience to God (Genesis 3). Before creation, there was nothing in existence that could rebel against God so there was no evil and therefore it was not constant from eternity. The Augsburg Confession lays original sin (the origin of evil in man) at the foot of the fall into sin; so it is true that evil is not a created thing but a by-product of disobedience (AC 2).
But Scripture teaches that evil/sin will be punished eternally in hell. Simply put, evil can be destroyed. Christians can take comfort that in the new heaven and the new earth God promises that evil (Zephaniah 3:14-17) and demons will be removed (2 Peter 2:4, Matthew 25:41, Revelation 20:10). There “death will be no more” (Revelation 21:4). These enemies of faith are crushed at the foot of the cross.
Christians can take comfort that in the new heaven and the new earth God promises that evil and demons will be removed. Death will be no more. These enemies are crushed at the foot of the cross.
Annabelle is not really interested in any of this. Rather, Father Perez’s line of dialogue fits best into Hollywood’s typical concept of eternal dualism: Good and Evil with their horns locked for eternity. It’s not a biblical picture, and no Roman Catholic priest would hold so fatalistic a position on the demonic. Along with other Christian clergy, he would be more likely to quote James 4:7—”Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”—or Romans 12:21—”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Suicide: A Case in Point
One issue where Annabelle digs wrongly into the topic of evil is on the subject of suicide. Murder and suicide are both presented in the film as ways in which a person sacrifices a soul to the demon. [Spoiler ahead! If you plan to see the film and want to avoid having it spoiled, stop reading here and come back later.]At the beginning of the film Mia and John are in church listening to Father Perez preach on John 15:13—”Greater love has no one than this, than someone lay down his life for his friends.” In his sermon, the priest says that God is happy with our sacrifices for others and that personal sacrifices make God smile on us. At the end of the film one of the characters commits suicide to protect Mia and John’s daughter Lea from the demon. The character essentially offers their life to spare the lives of others.
When this happens, viewers hear Father Perez’s sermon over the scene of the suicide, including the quotation from the Gospel of John and the part about God being happy with our sacrifice and smiling down upon it. This is extraordinarily problematic from a Christian perspective; it would be difficult to imagine a Christian approving that line of thinking. In John 15:13 Jesus is ultimately pointing to His own coming crucifixion for our salvation; in Annabelle, the passage is instead twisted into something never intended by Scripture.
Wan and Leonetti have again crafted a film with a rather thin veneer of Christianity. Like their previous film The Conjuring, the theological assertions here are unreliable. Add to this the overabundance of uninspired horror film stock characters executed with marginal acting skill and Annabelle ends up falling short of its goals. While it might be frightening to some viewers, it could have been more frightening—which is the general intention of a horror film. Apart from a couple “jump scares,” Annabelle is just not that good. The truly horrifying elements within the film are bad preaching and bad theology.