FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jun 30, 2019

My Queen

If you listen to Gaylords of Darkness on the regular, then perhaps you know how often I like to rail on The Conjuring universe. I tells ya, just the fact that the word "universe" applies is enough to set my teeth on edge! But it is à propos, is it not? With a Conjuring over here and an Insidious over there and a La Llorona this and a Nun that, it's all ballooning to the proportions of Marvel Universe fuckery. The films are all related, even if it's by the barest of threads; you know, "the priest in this one walked by in the background of that one, and someone said they knew him" or whatever. Yes, I enjoy railing against all of this even though these films obviously bring other people joy, and I am not forced to watch them so who really cares? But care I do, and rail I do, so much so that if my eyebrows grow perhaps another 1/8", my transformation into a horror-flavored Andy Rooney will be complete.

That stupid-looking doll Annabelle has received most of my ire on our podcast. I've brought it (and her) up several times, and my complaints are legion. She's hideous! She doesn't do anything! Why do they keep making movies about her? I want a doll who runs around and murders, not one who just sits there.

But over the last few days, dear reader, something has happened to me. I stared out the window and my mind went on an Eat Pray Love yogurt journey of self-realization and self-acceptance, and my thoughts Orinoco Flowed to a conclusion:

I think I love Annabelle.

This shocked me right to my core! But is it not my truth? "Will they or won't they?" has been a staple of film and television for thousands of years, from your Sam and Diane to your David and Maddie to I can't think of any others because I don't watch that much TV. But was the pattern not the same between me and Annabelle? We sure hate each other a lot, but we also can't stop talking about each other! I would never go see an Annabelle movie*, but I bring her up at every opportunity! Were we not destined to fall in love in another season and a half or so? What else could all of this mean?

I decided not to wait another season and a half. I would just get on with it and start living my truth.

(*okay, so I did watch Annabelle: Creation in a moment of weakness after I saw the atrocious Pet Sematary remake. I came out of A: C thinking "It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be," but that wasn't enough to quell the fires of my Conjuring universe rage or stop my shit-talking Annabelle.)

And so I began celebrating said truth by watching the 2014 film Annabelle. It was awful.

However, it only served to reinforce all of my feelings. You see, I realized that I actually love all the things I hate about Annabelle. Please allow me to explain, if I can.

It begins with the first sentence of the film's official synopsis:
John Form has found the perfect gift for his expectant wife, Mia - a beautiful, rare vintage doll in a pure white wedding dress.
The bold is mine. "Beautiful"? This?

Yes, yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, et cetera, but I'm sorry. No real-life eyes are beholding this doll as beautiful! But in the movie, she is apparently a vision, honey, and she is treated as such. No one even comments that she applies lip liner around her bottom lip much too liberally (IMO).

Despite the fact that this feature film is named for her, Annabelle gives the doll an origin that is difficult to parse. While she looks evil--uh, beautiful, she is not actually evil? She's merely a conduit for a demon, and she became a conduit because crazed hippies were trying to summon said demon and then the blood of a crazed hippie named Annabelle got in doll Annabelle's eye? I think?

While this makes no sense, it does to serve to explain why Annabelle thwarts our expectations in a killer doll movie. You know, why she doesn't do anything. She just sits wherever she is plunked down, staring emptily into space. She doesn't move. She never blinks. But things happen in her vicinity and they are chilling and we can only assume that Annabelle is responsible! Here are some of the things that happen in her vicinity:

–a record player starts on its own
–a sewing machine starts on its own
–a stovetop turns on on its own
–a rocking chair rocks on its own (several times)
–a door slowly closes...on its own
–books fall off a shelf (on their own) and almost hit a baby

You get the idea. Once upon a time–like, two days ago–this irritated me to no end. Why wasn't she running around? Why didn't she throw the books at that baby? I wanted the pitter-patter of doll feet, dammit! I wanted to catch a glimpse of her scooching around a corner after throwing books at a baby!

But then I realized, isn't it a far greater testament to her power that she just sits there whilst things happen around her? Is this not the loaf-of-bread-lifestyle to which I aspire? If I could just sit perfectly still and stare into space and my record player would start itself, it would save me an awful lot of time and energy.

The film's greatest moment occurs about a third of the way in. A character places Annabelle on a shelf and says "She fits right in!" However, we see this...

...and it's immediately apparent that Annabelle does not "fit right in." She is a gargantuan beast next to those daintier, prettier dolls. She takes up almost an entire shelf, a space where three, four, or five of the other dolls could fit. Her gown blots out nearly the entirety of the shelf below her. No, my friends, Annabelle does not fit right in. Annabelle occupies whatever kind of space she wants to occupy, front and center, hideous face beaming proudly, no apologies. Step aside or be lost behind her ruffles. Make room for Annabelle.

Is this not a confidence to which we all should aspire? Take up that space, reader. Take up whatever you need. Take up more, take up too much space. You deserve it.

Over the course of the film, we learn that Annabelle's purpose is to act as a conduit for a demon that wants to "claim a soul." But I think her true purpose is much greater than that. I think she's here to obliterate the heteronormative family paradigm.

When Aunt Ida (as portrayed by the inimitable Edith Massey) said "The world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life" in John Waters's Female Trouble, she could have been talking specifically about John and Mia of Annabelle. This blonde-haired, blue-eyed, church-going couple is so white and bland they make mayonnaise seem spicy. John, a doctor, is "nice." Housewife Mia, who has but one facial expression, occupies her time by watching soap operas and sewing. A lot of sewing. There are ample close-ups of the bobbin on her machine...well, bobbin' as she pushes some fabric through.

But what is she sewing? Nothing, it seems. She never completes a project. There is a dress form in the room, but it always stands bare. Mia never holds anything up so we can see that she's making a sock or a dress or whatever. She never says "I finished making a sock" or "I finished making a dress" or "I finished making whatever." She just pushes fabric through, over and over. It brought to mind that scene in The Shining where Wendy finally looks at Jack's "book" and sees that he's simply typed "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" thousands of times. Mia's sewing is nothing more than busywork, an indicator of a housewife's boredom and madness.

John and Mia soon welcome baby Leah into their household. Annabelle, a twisted, worn-out version of "beautiful," sets about fucking up this nuclear family by, again, simply existing. She sits and stares into space and...well, it's like I said. Books almost hit that baby!

By the end of the film, all seems lost for John and Mia. The only way for Leah to survive is for Mia to give up her soul. But no! At the last minute, kindly bookstore owner Evelyn (Alfre Woodard) (yeah, Alfre Woodard) (I know, right?), chucks herself out a window, offering up her soul to Annabelle and the demon. Yes, a Black woman gives up her life, doing the work necessary to save this pasty white family but it's okay because "God is cool with it."

Annabelle throws this ridiculous stereotype in our face, anticipating all of the ding-dong "Save us from ourselves, Black women!" articles that have emerged in the political landscape since, oh, 2016 or so. Because yes, that's what Black women do. They vote to save the rest of us! They do not vote in their own self-interest. White people are the center of their narrative, always! When push comes to shove, they won't wait for a shove! They'll jump out that window, just like Evelyn, so that Mia can continue her "sew to nowhere" journey.

Look, yes, it's really just an example of the trope. But I want to believe that Annabelle, with her chaotic dirty hippie blood energy, is actually satirizing the trope, pointing the mirror at us and asking if we are not entertained. After all, why would a character say "You cannot destroy what was never created" at the end of Annabelle, and then along comes the sequel Annabelle: Creation? Annabelle is clearly a troll.

I never expected to be here, defending a terrible movie. But my journey has shown me that Annabelle and I are meant to be. Everything I called her out on is everything I aspire to be. She does absolutely nothing, but she is always the center of attention and everyone is obsessed with her. Thanks to a Netflix algorithm error, the Babadook has become an LGBT icon, but what of Annabelle? What of her intersectional feminism (just give me this, okay?) and her repeated attempts to destroy the white, heterosexual hegemony? What of her doing this all while just sitting there, taking up all the space and looking absolutely hideous? We should be so lucky.


anikuffel said...

You are awesome!!! I love your take on the Annabelle series. From here on out I will be viewing this series in a whole new light with Annabelle as my powerful lazy animal spirit.

Stacie Ponder said...

@anikuffel– thanks so much! I'm just glad I'm at a place where I can finally embrace and live my truth :D

matango said...

This is like Killing Eve.

Stacie Ponder said...

Ugh I haven’t seen it yet! I really have to get on that

Playtimecapsule said...

Magnificent read and more than a few clever points. Ive seen ACH twice and you actually opened my eyes a bit.

Stacie Ponder said...

@Playtimecapsule - thank you so much! I'm waiting until I see the new ANNABELLE to watch your entire video but I really dig it so far. That set is *chef kiss*

CashBailey said...

That doll really is fucking hideous. How do the audiences not bust out in laughter every time it is shown in screen?

G.A. Redman said...

"...and my mind went on an Eat Pray Love yogurt journey of self-realization and self-acceptance..."
My plagerized thoughts exactly as I watched "The Nun" and realizing "why yes I am enjoying this mise-en-scene of jump scares and piano BAMS"

Unknown said...

Love this so much, Stacie!!! Just watched Annabelle..... She's my queen, too!

The Horrorist said...

Love your article and your unique vision of this 'gem'. That's why I want you to know that NECA is making a 7" scale action figure in her glass case that truly will fit in.