Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia, Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Samara Lee
We were first introduced to the Annabelle doll in 2013’s The Conjuring. It was the demonic doll that the Warrens kept under lock and key in their room full of artifacts. That prop was popular enough to get its own spinoff movie in 2015. We’re now getting the sequel to that movie which is actually a prequel dating back to the origins of its horror. Samuel Mullins (LaPaglia) is known throughout his little village for being a toymaker. He creates customized and sought after pieces including a limited edition doll. Tragedy strikes the Mullins family when his daughter, Bee (Lee), is run over by a car. Years pass by and Samuel and his wife (Otto) decide to open their sprawling home to a group of orphan girls and their caretaker Sister Charlotte (Sigman). The girls range in ages, but little Janice (Bateman) feels a bit left out at times as she suffers from polio.
The Mullins house is old, dusty, and full of haunts. The first night in their new home is sheer proof that something is not right with this house. Janice believes she sees someone lurking around. This coincides with the lights flickering and doors opening and shutting randomly. She’s been told not to go into Bee’s old room by Mr. Mullins but disobeys orders one night when she hears voices coming from inside. She enters thinking the other girls are inside only to find it empty and that it hasn’t been touched in years. All of the toys are out ready to be played with, except for the Annabelle doll that’s been shut in the closet. Janice’s snooping around in the closet invites the spirit of Bee back into the house, as her doll has been a conduit for the evil spirit.
Annabelle: Creation is part of the new Conjuring movie universe. Yes, they’re turning this into a universe like Marvel. You don’t need to have seen any of the other Conjuring movies or the first Annabelle to see this one. It has an original story that works on its own terms and is only tied into the franchise at the end. It’s probably a good thing you don’t need any background on Annabelle, as the first film was quite disappointing. While it had a Rosemary’s Baby vibe, it lacked any sort of originality compared to The Conjuring. Creation director David F. Sandberg, who made Lights Out last year, knows how to pump up the scares with what he has at his disposal. He knows how to get creative by honing in on why these vintage dolls and other household items like a dress form, a dumb waiter, and hand puppets can be deceptively creepy to young kids. He makes use of practical effects by showing these dolls in just the right lighting to make them look creepy. Annabelle doesn’t come alive in the way the Chucky doll does. She has a presence and look to her that doesn’t need to be amplified with movement. It helps that they’ve chosen to set the story in a remote part of town that happens to have an old well nearby. There’s no one around to hear you scream and you can’t see what lurks in the darkness. Add in a mysterious character that’s bedridden, and you have some natural horrors that would haunt some innocent kids.
It’s worth pointing out that there is plenty of downtime in between scares. Annabelle writer Gary Dauberman is back on board and builds up the relationships between the girls and what happened to the caretakers’ daughter. You grow more concerned for Janice and her friend Linda when you know they hope to be adopted together one day. There are great casting choices for some of the young girls who also look very angelic and porcelain like the Annabelle doll.
Despite the two Conjuring movies being based on true stories, this film isn’t pretending to recount the events of the doll it’s based on. The real Annabelle doll on display at the Warrens is a Raggedy Ann doll, and Sandberg does pay tribute as we see that doll at one point during the movie. For a spinoff sequel/prequel, Creation is far better than anyone would have expected, as Sandberg doesn’t try to recreate the genre. He sticks to what works by playing into the fears kids would have in a haunted old house. There are quite the number of jump scares that will have you screaming at the screen as it makes it way to the massive climax. I love scary movies and am always looking into the darkness and shadows for when the shocking moments would happen. Even I was spooked at Annabelle: Creation. I don’t think this movie will stand the test of time in the horror genre, but it definitely delivers. Even those scary movie cynics would agree with that.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? A surprisingly eerie sequel that’s better than its predecessor
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS