Annabelle: Creation, 2017.
Directed by David F. Sandberg.
Starring Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Philippa Coulthard, Grace Fulton, Lou Lou Safran, Samara Lee, Taylor Buck, Anthony LaPaglia, and Miranda Otto
Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.
The obvious solution to fighting an unholy a demonic presence is generally to get on your ass, start praying, call an exorcist (or the Ghostbusters I suppose), and just hope that whatever deity you believe in is on your side.
That all does jack-shit in Annabelle: Creation. Don’t believe me? Wait till you get a load of the character that has their fingers bent and snapped off while tightly clutching a rosemary cross for defense. The power of Christ compelled shit. It’s a disturbing piece of imagery that is sure to stick with audiences for the rest of the year, along with the film as a whole. David F. Sandberg (known for last year’s great piece of work Lights Out, which is absolutely worth pointing out as he is once again playing with lighting ranging from bright safe places of sanctuary and pitch black darkness populated by all manners of hell) has crafted a spooky tale that should satisfy both fans of modern-day mainstream horror pictures (yes, there are quite a few jump scares, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing as some of them are downright terrifying and do come out of nowhere) and those that enjoy characters they actually want to see survive.
Before the opening title card flashes Annabelle: Creation, tragedy strikes a family led by a loving husband and father who is also a professionally skilled doll maker. After some years go by, loving but estranged couple Samuel and Esther Mullins decide to allow a struggling convent (along with its nun Sister Charlotte) to move into their rather large home that is assuredly adequate enough to act as an orphanage. Right off the bat, we are introduced to a pair of younger girls that are seemingly inseparable and best friends (they say they will never leave each other and dream of being adopted together), one of which has a severe case of polio that prevents her from walking without some kind of mechanical brace. Even then, her walk is more of a slow limp.
Fortunately, the home does have a chair-elevator contraption for the stairway, originally intended for Esther before an unexplained accident took away her ability to walk, left her bedridden, and to this point, unable to want to leave the solitude of her own room. She is also forced to wear a plastic mask covering one-half of the side of her face, which is a creative decision that Sandberg effectively utilizes as he knows when to show us more and give us more information. Sometimes, the less you see and know works out better for the story, and he gets it; there is also clever shot framing with a large see-through curtain over the bed hiding her physical presence, with artistic cinematography that gives us glimpses of her facial structure through mirror reflections.
The rest of the children are older by varying degrees and tend to bully Janice for being different (and Linda to a certain extent for always sticking around her). At one point, this even prompts Janice to assume that the Annabelle doll is choosing to attack her soul because she is physically the weakest, paving the way for a very sweet moment where Sister Charlotte tells her that the challenges she faces in life actually make her stronger than all of the other children. One of the missteps (and there were many) in 2014’s Annabelle were the awful characters and all-around terrible writing, which is the polar opposite of everything audiences have come to expect from the consistently expanding The Conjuring cinematic universe, so that’s why it’s an important and noteworthy bit that Sandberg has an understanding of what makes James Wan’s horror films some of the best this decade. It also helps that child actors Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson give fantastic performances, both in terms of character and knowing how to display being scared out of their mind.
Although, the story is not perfect; it does fall into clichés here and there along with some predictable plot points. There are also some characters that occasionally make a stupid mistake. However, all of the primary players are defined enough to the point where audiences will easily grow sympathetic to their fear from the supernatural haunting. Sandberg also throws a lot at the wall in terms of different styles of horror, seeing what sticks. The last 30 minutes are completely intense and filled with nonstop dread. That dread multiplies when one realizes that the film isn’t afraid to kill off multiple characters, all in highly gruesome ways.
If it seems like I didn’t divulge too much of the plot, that was intentional; it may have its moments of predictability, but knowing the characters and their growth is a large part of what makes all of the terror functional. And trust me, there are some absolutely haunting sequences, including one of the most frightening and surprising jump scares I’ve ever come across. Annabelle: Creation is a worthy addition to the universe that feels tonally in line with both The Conjuring films; it even ties into the larger picture of all these movies in ways that will not be expected.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★