A horror prequel of a horror prequel.
You don’t see that every day. What is even rarer is a horror prequel of a really terrible horror prequel tat turns out to be good.
Yet that is what we have with Annabelle: Creation.
The Conjuring was a really enjoyable horror movie, featuring the scary doll Annabelle. So, of course, sensing the dollars that it could bring, the studio brought us a prequel story of that doll in the film, Annabelle. And it was terrible. However, it did make some money and they wanted to continue the Conjuring Cinematic Universe (like everyone is trying to do these days) and so they did another Annabelle film.
This time, though, they gave us a director who had some vision for this film. David F. Sandberg directed the highly entertaining Lights Out last year, and he brought something special to this film and turned Annabelle: Creation into a very good, scary and engaging time at the theater.
This is an origin story of Annabelle the doll, seeing how she was created and how she came to be possessed by the evil spirits that would cause such trouble.
A group of orphans taught by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) arrive by invitation of the Mullins. The Mullins, Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and Esther (Miranda Otto) who had lost their daughter in a tragic accident years before, opened up their homes to these orphans, giving them somewhere to be. However, it is clear that there is more going on in this house than the children would expect.
Two of the girls, Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson), are extremely close, swearing that they would never leave one another and that they would only be adopted together. Younger than the others, these two are naturally isolated from the group. Janice begins hearing noises coming from the room that Samuel had told her never to go into, and that leads to trouble.
The relationship between Janice and Linda was at the heart of the movie, and really helped to anchor the audience to these characters. Janice and Linda do receive some development, and this connection to one another is the strongest aspect of that. Unfortunately, the rest of the girls are not very well developed. I also would have liked more development from the Mullins as well. The beginning of the film presents us with some, but I would have liked more from them.
The strength of the film is the look and the feel of the scares. The imagery is very scary, and there are some very disturbing flashes in Annabelle: Creation. I think credit should be given to Sanberg for much of the success of the film. He builds tension extremely effectively throughout the film, and many of the scares are very original.
Now, I do think he relied too much on jump scares in the movie, and the music cues became irritating at times. You could usually tell when something scary was going to happen, because, just like in your typical horror movie, the music would go silent, or the sound would begin to grow. Having said that, there are several instances where the tension is dragged out more than what you expect, so you are building tension waiting for the scare to happen. There are also a few times when the scare does not happen, keeping you off-balance.
Plotwise there is nothing here that you haven’t seen before. In fact, you see a ton of the horror tropes scattered throughout. There were so many of them, I wondered if Sandberg was specifically trying to go down a checklist of the tropes. There was the car that wouldn’t start, the creepy kids, the priests and nuns, the ghosts in the house, the jump scares, the stupid choices the characters make, the axe, objects tossed around the room, the haunted house, and of course, the creepy doll.
However, despite the overabundance of horror tropes, the film does subvert several of them. That axe does not lead to a murder. The film avoids the last one standing trope. And the film does not deal with the kids trying to convince the adults something weird is going on.
There was only one moment in the film that I really hated. It was a laughable moment when the ghost of the Mullins girl turned to face Janice. I won’t tell you what she says or what she looked like, but it almost pulled me from the film. Fortunately, it came back strong.
It was fun watching Annabelle: Creation because I had a group of younger girls in the theater I was watching this in and they spent much of the film screeching at the scares. They helped make these moments more effective.
The performances are very solid in the movie. I wanted to specifically mention Lulu Wilson, who was also in the much better horror prequel Ouija: Origin of Evil. She is excellent again as she was in that film. Talitha Bateman was also very good as Janice. These two worked very well together. Stephanie Sigman does a great job as Sister Charlotte. She is a charming presence and gave the audience an adult to root for.
This was a very solid horror movie that, while it played with a lot of the tropes, did so in a different way. The characters that had some focus were very likeable and you could really root for them. The imagery was very scary and well done, and the film makes Annabelle scary once again after the doll had become more of a joke in the first prequel. The film also does a great job of tying it back into the other films in the cinematic universe.
If you are a horror fan, you’ll find a lot to like in Annabelle: Creation.