Ghosts and demons and dolls…Oh My!!!
Annabelle: Creation is a prequel of a prequel set in The Conjuring Universe. Yes, I know, we now live in a world where major studios keep trying to make their all their properties into a cinematic universe, but to be fair, The Conjuring Universe just sort of happened naturally. I mean, if your first movie features a room that contains a ton of supernatural and haunted artifacts, you’re always going to have a veritable goldmine to farm stories from. But…I digress. Back to Annabelle.
For those of you who aren’t in the know, Annabelle is a creepy-as-heck doll that first made her appearance in 2013’s horror film The Conjuring. Mainly a background prop in that film, Annabelle was then given more of the limelight in 2014’s prequel spin-off, the appropriately titled Annabelle. And now, with Annabelle: Creation, audiences finally get to see the origin of the unsettling little toy.
Annabelle: Creation takes us back to the 1950’s where Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and six orphan girls are given shelter in the home of the Mullins, after their orphanage gets closed down. A doll-maker, Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto), are still grieving the loss their young daughter, Annabelle (Samara Lee), to a car accident 12 years previously. What starts off as a pleasant stay in the countryside soon becomes a horrifying ordeal as the spirit of the Mullin’s daughter begins to terrorise the occupants of the Mulllins’ home. That’s what you get when you visit the home of a dead girl.
Now you would be forgiven if you went into Creation not expecting much. Most prequels are sub-par at best, but a prequel of a prequel? Surely that’s going to suck. Luckily director David F. Sandberg and writer Gary Dauberman are happy to prove us wrong with this surprisingly well-made horror film that expands the lore of the Conjuring franchise while adding some nice call-backs to the previous movies. Honestly though I don’t know why I’m surprised because, frankly, there aren’t many things scarier than little pale girls running around in dark corridors. Seriously, if a little child ever crept up on me in the middle of the night, I’d probably kick first, ask questions later.
With the mix of the eerie setting of the Mullin’s farmstead, with its dark nooks and crannies, and the way that shots are framed by Sandberg, Creation is a cornucopia of jump scares. It’s the slow ratchetting of tension, building up the suspense that really gets to you, making you clutch the arms of your seat as the sound builds up, anticipating something bad is going to happen, but not sure when or how. These kinds of scenes are expected in any decent horror film, but when they are as well executed as they are here, they still manage to make quite an impact. Sandberg has a way of moving across a scene, circling around, and slowly revealing disturbing manifestations in the background, unbeknownst to the characters in the scene. It’s very effective and elicited quite a gasps from the audience on more than one occasion.
The main characters in the film aren’t just ciphers that horrific things happen to. We are given a little bit of back-story here and there, developing the protagonists into people that we fear for when the carnage begins. LaPaglia and Otto are strong in their roles as grieving parents, but its Talitha Bateman as the polio riddled Janice that really stood out for me. Janice bears the brunt of Annabelle’s devastation, both physically and emotionally, and Bateman proved easily up to the task of conveying the horror and trauma that Janice was going through. Lulu Wilson as Linda, Janice’s close friend amongst the orphans, also did an admirable job in her role, but there were moments in her performance where she was a little over-the-top, causing unintentional laughter from the audience. Luckily these moments were few and far between, and didn’t take away from the uneasy and disconcerting atmosphere that the rest of the film sets up.
With its reliance on suspense rather than gore, and a strong lead cast, Annabelle: Creation manages to dodge preconceived notions and provides another sinister antagonist to add to the horror hall of fame.
I give Annabelle: Creation a 7.5 out of 10.
PS, if you want to stay spoiler-free, don’t watch the trailer linked below.