Annabelle: Creation, 2017.
Directed by David F. Sandberg.
Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Samara Lee, Miranda Otto, Stephanie Sigman, Mark Bramhall, Brad Greenquist, and Lulu Wilson.
Yet another prequel from The Conjuring universe detailing how the creepy Annabelle doll came to be.
Having now established that there is a ‘universe’ based around James Wan’s 2013 hit The Conjuring by making sequels and spinoffs about seemingly secondary characters and events mentioned in passing we end up here with Annabelle: Creation, not only the second prequel to The Conjuring but also the second prequel based around the creepy image of the Annabelle doll briefly seen in Wan’s original movie. Yes, it does seem that Warner Bros. are forcing this evil doll concept down our throats a bit but in their defence they do have a significantly creepier looking killer doll than Chucky and they aren’t about to let that particular cash cow go until audiences stop flocking to see it, and if there is one thing that the whole The Conjuring universe seems to do well is put bums on seats, regardless of the quality of the movies.
A bit cynical? Perhaps, but after The Conjuring landed and successfully managed to recapture some of the essence of ‘70s and ‘80s supernatural chillers like The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist, 2014’s prequel Annabelle felt rushed and unnecessary, pandering to audience expectations and dishing out jump scare after jump scare with seemingly little of the craft that went into The Conjuring. Last year’s James Wan-directed The Conjuring 2 did little to restore the balance by being overlong and tension-free, and despite introducing the character of the Demon Nun – the subject of another prequel due out next year – which looks set to further the mythology there was very little else going on so another prequel featuring the Annabelle doll needed to do something pretty special to try and replicate the dread and atmosphere created by The Conjuring. And, pleasingly (read: surprisingly), it has… sort of.
Plot-wise Annabelle: Creation doesn’t really deviate too far from any haunted house movie you care to mention, only in this case it is not one family getting spooked but a group of orphaned girls under the care of Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman – Spectre) living in the isolated house of dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia – Happy Feet) and his bedbound wife Esther (Miranda Otto – War of the Worlds), whose own daughter Annabelle was killed in an accident 12 years before. Of the girls, polio sufferer Janice (Talitha Bateman) is the first to notice things are a little off in the Mullins’ house when she discovers a seemingly discarded doll in a white dress (guess who?) locked in a cupboard and surrounded by pages of the Bible. And now the Annabelle doll has been discovered it isn’t too long before ghostly things start to happen to all of the inhabitants of the house and the full story of the doll, why Samuel Mullins locked it away and why Esther Mullins won’t leave her bed is revealed.
So there’s not a lot to get excited about over the plot and as you watch the film you do start to get the numbing realisation that Annabelle: Creation doesn’t cover any new ground, either within the confines of its own universe or the horror genre as a whole, but at around the hour mark the film suddenly changes gear and you start to appreciate that what you have been watching is a setup for the rollercoaster ride that director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) is about to send you on, resulting in a final act that taps into what made The Conjuring work and gives it to you in spades. Not that the film does anything daring or innovative but Sandberg is a canny filmmaker who knows what audiences expect from a mainstream horror movie and just sets about giving audiences what they want but at a relentless rate, throwing every variation on the jump scare, every subversion of religious imagery and every trick using light and shade you could think of at the camera safe in the knowledge that, despite audiences knowing full well what is going to happen, so much is happening to the various characters in various locations around the house that just as you settle into the rhythm of familiarity you are forced to turn your attentions elsewhere, resetting the tension all over again and making sure you get your full share of scares.
But to reiterate again, Annabelle: Creation does nothing you haven’t seen before, both in what works and what does not. The reveal of the demon is underwhelming (and largely pointless given that the Annabelle doll is infinitely creepier) in the same way that the reveal of the Darth Maul lookalike in Insidious is comical and should really have been left out, and quite how nobody else in the house woke up during Janice’s initial run-ins with Annabelle is baffling as the young girl screams and runs around on her walking stick without apparently making a sound, and had the film continued in this vein after the halfway mark then we would be looking at another The Conjuring 2. But whereas that film meanders to a finish that is as generic and bland as the two hours that it took to set it up, Annabelle: Creation does have a payoff that justifies the wait and makes you feel for certain characters that you otherwise may have written off as annoying had they not had to have made certain decisions along the way. On the flipside of that, there are other characters that make dumb decisions and cause you to raise your eyebrows once or twice but given how exciting the final half an hour turns out to be then questionable character choices can be forgiven.
Overall, Annabelle: Creation is far from a perfect film but in terms of what it sets out to do it succeeds greatly and, despite the slow start, by the time you get to the ending you certainly feel as though you have been put through your paces alongside the characters on the screen. It does fall into cliché on several occasions but David F. Sandberg knows his audience and their expectations, piling on the often predictable scares at such a rate as to keep you on edge until the final credits roll. Do keep on watching past the credits as we get a little taster of what is to come next year, and if The Hallow director Corin Hardy can do with The Nun what David F. Sandberg has done here then hopefully this franchise will continue on an upwards trajectory as Annabelle: Creation, despite its flaws, is very much the definition of a mainstream horror crowd-pleaser.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★