THE STORYFormer toy maker Sam Mullins and his wife Esther are happy to welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their California farmhouse. Years earlier, the couple lost their 7-year-old daughter Annabelle in a tragic car accident. Terror soon strikes when one of the girls finds a seemingly innocent doll that seems to have a life of its own.
THE CAST – Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia & Miranda Otto
THE TEAM – David F. Sandberg (Director) & Gary Dauberman (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 109 Minutes
By Matthew G.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, shared universes have become a very popular thing in film. So, why not a shared universe for the supposed paranormal cases of Ed and Lorraine Warren? 2013’s “The Conjuring” and its 2016 sequel were excellent entries into the horror genre. But, sandwiched in between them was the “Annabelle” spin-off/prequel film. Put simply, “Annabelle” was abysmal as a film, but was massively profitable, spawning a follow-up film that turned into a prequel to the spin-off. And while “Annabelle: Creation” doesn’t rise to the heights of its “Conjuring” cousins, it marks a vast improvement on its predecessor.
Janice (Talitha Bateman), a polio victim, and her friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) are orphans hoping to be adopted together into a loving home. Until then, the duo, along with a few other girls, are brought by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) to a new orphanage in the house of Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto). Sadly, the Mullins lost their daughter Annabelle in a tragic accident. Unfortunately, her spirit, or something more sinister, still dwells in the house, awaiting a chance to claim a soul and a new host for itself.
A major reason why the first “Annabelle” failed so badly is that its characters were terribly written. In the prequel, there are at least a few characters who are decently crafted. Janice, Linda, Sister Charlotte, and the Mullins are serviceable characters who are played well by their actors. Sadly, not all the characters fare so well. The other girls in the group are completely paper thin and barely factor into the bulk of the story. The characters being slightly better is further enhanced by the good period piece costumes and, most especially, by being set in a very good period piece home that adds to the tense atmosphere.
The other major reason why “Annabelle” was so poor is that almost all of its attempts at horror were so poorly crafted. By contrast, this prequel improves greatly in the scare department, particularly because it uses a lot more of the demonic imagery that informed the one good sequence in the first film. There’s still plenty of dull shots of the doll looking ominous, but at least there’s something else to add actual frights. The single biggest reason why the horror works better in this film is the cinematography. The camera moves with a lithe grace that adds a small layer of disorientation to several of the scenes. It’s clear that either director David Sandberg has a strong eye, or else he picked up a few tricks from his collaborating with James Wan, the director of both “Conjuring” films. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the film still relies far too much on its overly loud score to set the mood and relies far too often on obvious jump startles. And yes, I call them “startles” rather than “scares” because all they do is make you jump and your heart race, rather than instill true fear and dread.
What makes “Annabelle: Creation” stand out most in my mind is how much it parallels “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” another horror prequel that is extremely superior to its preceding film (2014’s “Ouija”). David Sandberg helmed the solidly made and firmly profitable “Lights Out” in 2016 before working on “Annabelle: Creation,” while “Ouija: Origin of Evil” was directed by Mike Flanagan, who was in charge of 2014’s well done “Oculus”. Actress Lulu Wilson plays a major character in both “Annabelle: Creation” and “Ouija: Origin of Evil.” Even the subtitles involving creation and origin mirror each other.
In the end, “Annabelle: Creation” is an okay little horror film. It’s certainly not spectacular as it uses a lot of the biggest faults of modern horror films with its obnoxious score and use of cheap jump startles. But, it has some decent characters and it has some genuinely good attempts at frightening the audience that are much better than “Annabelle.” Excellent production design and good camera work also bolster this effort. I can’t necessarily say it’s a film that you need to rush out and see in the theater. But, if you’re a fan of this shared universe, particularly the two “Conjuring” films, consider it a tentative recommendation.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A fairly effective and tense atmosphere. Some excellent cinematography. Very good period piece production design and costumes. Adequate primary characters.
THE BAD – The typical over-reliance on a heavy-handed score and obviously telegraphed jump startles. The secondary characters are one note and largely irrelevant.
THE FINAL SCORE – 5/10