Movie Review: “Annabelle: Creation” (R)
That header isn’t meant as some form of faint praise. “Annabelle: Creation” isn’t quite in the same league as “The Conjuring” films, but it’s worlds better than the spinoff movie that inspired it. Credit crafty director David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out”) not only for his ability to create effective, old-school spook-alley-style scares and a fairly epic scale but for also creatively tying this film into “The Conjuring” universe. Watch for plenty of familiar winks at “The Conjuring” and a nifty lead into the first “Annabelle.” Despite the shared universe approach, though, Sandberg is still able to give “Creation” its own identity.
In this prequel, a dollmaker (Anthony LaPalgia) and his loving wife (Miranda Otto) inadvertently invite an unwanted guest into their home after an unforeseen tragedy sends their lives into an emotional tailspin. After 12 years of trying to move beyond this tragedy, the scarred couple invite a group of orphan girls into their home in the hope that they’ll bring a little bit of life back into their now lifeless abode. Terrifying trouble arises, however, when young orphan Janice (Talitha Bateman) unleashes a supernatural force that resides within the plastic bones of a creepy looking doll called Annabelle.
From the brilliant “Twilight Zone” episode “Living Doll” to “Child’s Play” to “The Puppet Master” series to “Trilogy of Terror,” the movies have certainly presented a fair share of horrific playthings come to life through the years. In 2014, John R. Leonetti attempted to shed light on that creepy antique doll that James Wan put to such effective use in “The Conjuring” by way of “Annabelle,” a limp horror film that wasn’t so much interested in offering up answers as it was in raising more questions.
Sandberg has stepped up to the horror plate with “Creation” in an attempt to answer some of the questions surrounding this terrifying doll, and for the most part, he succeeds. Not only does he pull off a handful of extremely well executed scares but he also gives us a handful of characters worth caring about.
Admittedly, I wish Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPalgia (this appealing actor has been away from the movies for far too long) were given more to do, but young Talitha Bateman is terrific as a polio survivor whose unfortunate curiosity gets the better of her. Lulu Wilson (who also appeared in Mike Flanagan’s effective “Ouija” prequel, “Origin of Evil”) is also solid as Janice’s more easily rattled best friend. Rounding out a pleasant ensemble cast is a warm and charming Stephanie Sigman as a nun who will do anything to protect the orphans she so deeply cares about.
Again, though, “Annabelle: Creation” is a horror film, and while it helps that we care about the individuals who are being haunted, “Creation” simply wouldn’t work without sufficient scares. Thankfully, Sandberg keeps the scares coming at a relatively quick clip. Further props to the “Lights Out” director for the way he shrewdly lays out the lay of the land and sets up his gags in the early goings of the picture. It makes the payoffs all the more effective.
What’s more, the malevolent spirit that serves as the primary antagonist in this picture is quite the scary beast. And this particular presence is all the scarier because Sandberg really only gives us unnerving glimpses of him. No long, lingering shots. Just enough to get an idea of what this terrifying presence looks like and what its capable of. Then, it’s up to the viewer’s imagination to run wild, and run wild it does.
True, this film doesn’t come without obvious horror tropes, and it goes beyond little winks at the likes of “The Ring” and “Paranormal Activity.” There’s plenty of scenes when seemingly clueless characters continue to enter both the house and its darker nooks and crannies, even though they’ve been given plenty of reasons not to. There are also a few scenes in which the demon makes so much noise when in attack mode that you begin to question why all that damn racket doesn’t wake up all the other folks in the house. Heavy sleepers, I guess. This nasty creature is even able to snatch up potential victims in broad daylight with other individuals standing what seem like only a few feet away.
Of course, many a horror fan wouldn’t even necessarily refer to the previously mentioned tropes as flaws. Whatever your opinion, the fright gags certainly prevail in this picture. “Annabelle: Creation” is an efficient horror film made by a creative (and likable) storyteller who clearly gets pleasure out making viewers jump out of their skin. Sandberg even finds the time to inject just the right amount of humor into the proceedings.
There have certainly been scarier movies through the years, but “Annabelle: Creation” more than gets the job done. At the very least, it’s a worthy entry in “The Conjuring” series, which will soon see the release of spinoff entries “The Nun” and “The Crooked Man.” Looks like Marvel and DC are no longer the only “Shared Universe” games in town. Watch for a couple of noteworthy little end credit stingers.