Annabelle: Creation (2017)

You don’t know the real story

Honestly, who’d have thought that releasing a prequel film to an offshoot origin story wound be a good idea (and a profitable move); but here we are with Annabelle: Creation, this latest hair-raiser a predecessor to Annabelle (2014), which itself was a prequel slash spin-off James Wan’s excellent The Conjuring (2013), the movie in which the possessed porcelain moppet, Annabelle, made her big screen debut.

Confused? Well, let me try to explain. With the recent ‘universe building’ craze currently taking over Hollywood, it makes sense that Warner Bros. would try to cash in on one of their biggest earners, The Conjuring series — these pictures costing little to produce and generating big bucks at the box office — the suits over at the WB attempting to craft a ‘scary’ interconnected franchise à la The Avengers, but with paranormal spooks instead. And why not? Everyone else seems to be milking their properties for all they’re worth. Our tagline here reads, ‘You don’t know the real story,’ suggesting that Annabelle: Creation tells the ‘story before the story (before the latest story in the timeline),’ the movie tracing the history of the demon dolly all the way back to her ‘creation,’ a good decade before the 2014 picture, which was set in 1967.

… alone in the dark.

Beginning in 1945 (or there abouts), Annabelle: Creation starts with the tragic death of a 7-year-old girl nicknamed ‘Bee’ (Samara Lee), the daughter of a dollmaker, Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), and his loving spouse, Esther (Miranda Otto). Cut to 1957 (some 12 years later), where the still-grieving couple open their countryside manor to a cluster of homeless girls — along with their Mexican caretaker, a nun named Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) — after their orphanage closes down. Mr. Mullins, who’s now retired, spends his days looking after his catatonic wife, who’s bedridden and still terribly heartbroken years after her little one’s untimely passing. While exploring the homestead, the six orphans discover that one room in particular is especially ‘off limits,’ the little ladies learning that these locked quarters once belonged to the Mullins’ deceased daughter, Annabelle. Cue scary music!

Naturally, the girls’ curiosity is piqued and Janice (Talitha Bateman), a crippled young’un with a leg impairment, is soon compelled to enter — because, what rational-thinking sane person wouldn’t go into a dark and ominous ‘forbidden’ chamber in the middle of the night? Sheesh! This tike’s got more guts than me. As time goes on, Janice finds out that the bedroom is home to a deceitful demonic entity, this malevolent spirit, who first appears to Janice as the Mullins’ late daughter, eventually tricking her into unleashing a nightmare-inducing doll (the titular Annabelle), the pasty-faced plaything a conduit for the unholy puppetmaster, who quickly begins to terrorize the new residence — chiefly Janice’s best friend, poor lil’ Linda (Lulu Wilson) — this malicious force hellbent on claiming a handful of human souls.

‘I’ve got my eye on you’…

With creepy scarecrows, killer ghouls and a spine-tingling scene involving a sheet-covered phantasm, Annabelle: Creation is a noticeable improvement over the previous demented doll chapter (which, despite its shortcomings, I actually enjoyed), this new fright-fest steered by David F. Sandberg, whose confident freshman film, Lights Out (2016), was met with critical and audience praise upon release. From the get-go, it’s evident that this fourth ‘Conjuring-verse’ installment is aiming for a James Wan-type aesthetic, the WB trying to emulate that unnerving, atmospheric dread of horror maestro Wan, whose eerily ambient signature stylings are imbedded into Creation’s fibre — this tone most likely to be carried out through the WB’s slate of ‘shared universe’ pictures of things that go bump in the night. Unfortunately, Sandberg (our director) is no Wan, and despite his best efforts, the 36-year-old Swede is unable to match the Aussie filmmaker’s sheer mastery in supernatural suspense.

With that said, however, Sandberg seems to be an ideal fit to helm this next Annabelle entry, the budding director a clear fanatic of old fashion terror and old school techniques, his sophomore Hollywood feature going for simple yet effective scares as opposed to anything overtly explicit. But gore-hounds don’t fret as, while Sandberg uses shadowy hallways, mirror reflections and ill-omened creaks and howls to generate a bulk of the jolts, there are a handful of gleefully gory moments, too, these gruesome goodies likely to frighten the bejeezus out of the film’s target demographic — teenagers — Annabelle: Creation a smidgen more graphic than its precursor; look, it’s not as kooky or ‘out there’ as Wan’s Insidious (2010) nor as grounded as The Conjuring (2013), Creation living somewhere in-between.

‘Found you.’

Written by Gary Dauberman — who penned the 2014 genesis picture — the screenplay, as far as horror goes, is a tad predictable and clichéd, the feature (which actually ties together nicely with its ’14 counterpart) favoring jump scares over narrative, Creation struggling to set up a story worthy of the antagonistic Annabelle, this chiller not as pulse-pounding as it ought to have been — you’ve kinda seen it all before, therefore, you know what’s lurking in the dark, just around the corner. Be that as it may, a flashback, detailing the terrifying events after Bee’s passing, is the movie’s most memorable sequence, this skimmed-over backstory (which is sure to send audiences into a cold sweat) far more interesting, and shocking, than the tale playing out in front of us.

Performances are generally good all round, even if the ‘static’ devilish dolly — who randomly pops up in unexpected places and, from time to time, merely turns her head — seems to have more of a ‘presence’ than the humans inhabiting the screen. Adelaide-born Anthony LaPaglia, Lantana (2001), is dry as the grief-stricken Sam Mullins, whilst Miranda Otto, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), spends most of the flick hidden behind a canopy, her character, Esther, bedbound (and masked) for a majority of the picture. The best work comes from the young actresses, largely the charming Talitha Bateman, The 5th Wave (2016), who plays Janice, the rising starlet wholly selling the character’s sweet and innocent side as well as her bewitched counterpart, our protagonist eventually falling under the coal-colored demon’s sinful spell. Elsewhere, newcomers Philippa Coulthard and Grace Fulton are fun as a couple of gossiping teen orphans, whereas Lulu Wilson — who made one heck of an impression in last year’s shuddersome Ouija: Origin of Evil — shines as deuteragonist Linda, Janice’s panic-stricken bestie, who’s constantly tormented by haunted the knickknack.

Friends ’til the end.

Sewn together by some beautifully unsettling visuals, captured by cinematographer Maxime Alexandre, The Hills Have Eyes (2006), and strong sound design and score, composed by Benjamin Wallfisch, Lights Out (2016), these elements generating a solid sense of moody dread, Annabelle: Creation works best as a redemptive flick, this one perhaps ‘created’ to win back those cynics, who more-or-less wrote the property off after 2014’s ‘so-so’ Annabelle. Splattered with subtle hints and winks to bogeyman projects still to come — the most obvious being Corin Hardy’s The Nun, slated for a 2018 release — along with an ingenious cameo by the ‘real-life’ Annabelle (the antique Raggedy Ann nowhere near as menacing as the movie version), Annabelle: Creation is a fiendishly frightful treat, one that’s destined to give the average moviegoer the heebie jeebies.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

Annabelle: Creation is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia