Annabelle: Creation Review
Twelve years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker's possessed creation, Annabelle.
A prequel, to the prequel-spin-off from The Conjuring franchise sounds like a convoluted C-grade movie mess; however, Annabelle: Creation isn’t the low-tier product and horror fodder it may appear to be.
In the early 1940s, the Mullins family are all together and they are happy. Humble dollmaker Samuel and Esther are happily married with their daughter Bee, and the business is doing well. One day, however, on the way home from church, a terrible accident occurs, and the Mullins lose their daughter. Twelve years pass and the Mullins decide to let six girls from a closed down orphanage move in, along with Sister Charlotte from the church. However, after just a few days at their new home, creepy and weird things start happening to some of the girls, and one of them discovers a certain doll -- the doll Conjuring fans know as Annabelle.
Annabelle is a proving ground of just how creepy dolls still are. If you ever think the idea of a creepy looking doll just staring at you in a dark corner won’t do much on the scare factor scale, you haven’t seen Annabelle: Creation. That, in itself, is a sign of the kind of movie this is, and it’s more in line with the original Conjuring's old school sensibilities in horror, than either the sequel or the first Annabelle movie. The 1950s vibe helps sell even more of the old school creepy doll vibe. However, of course, there is more to Annabelle than simply a creepy doll sitting in the corners of rooms.
Similar to the past Conjuring movies, this Annabelle movie also features a rather large cast spending the majority of the movie inside a large house together. On this aspect, Annabelle: Creation can at times start to feel paint-by-numbers. But thanks to a great cast and direction, it is definitely more than a throwaway horror rip-off that could be done better elsewhere.
There's a great cast with Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto as the Mullins, mourning their daughter's death, each seemingly hiding their own secrets when the girls from the orphanage arrive. Arriving with the girls is the soft spoken, wise-sounding Stephanie Suman as Sister Charlotte. The girls themselves are all great as well, but it’s a standout performance from Talitha Bateman that sells the heart and soul of the orphanage girls as Janice.
The first time we meet the girls they are on a bus on their way to the Mullins home. They're talking and they're excited to get to the new house. Janice sits up the back next to her best friend Linda, played by Lulu Wilson. Linda is staring out the window thinking about adoption and she's feeling down. Janice comforts her, telling her how much she loves Linda’s doll because it looks so much like her. It’s a sweet scene and sets Janice and Linda’s relationship and best-friends-forever nature up well. Janice, unfortunately, has polio, and although Sister Charlotte says she is getting better, she struggles to walk. She’s ultimately left behind by the other girls when they go to play, and you can tell she feels trapped and often lonely, even if she tries to act stronger. Eventually, when she comes into contact with dark forces later in the movie, she assumes she’s being preyed upon by the devil simply because she is weak of body, but the Sister reminds her she is not weak of faith or mind. Her struggle with her faith and body, and her endearing relationship with Linda are fantastic.
David F. Sandberg uses fantastic lighting and framing to great effect here. What’s going to scare you is often just creeping off in the distance out of frame, or simply cannot be seen yet because of the lighting. Sandberg will slowly build up the tension with slow moving shots across rooms, with carefully planned positioning of the cast and what’s trying to chase them. He directs horror well and carefully here. Even when some shocking scenes take place, he is brave enough to show it full-on, or to reveal it in a way that builds terror.
Unfortunately, the ending of Annabelle doesn’t meet the rest of the film's quality -- it’s messy, doesn’t do the characters justice, and attempts to tie things into the original movie cleanly, but it’s unnecessary and dirties the end of this film.
Annabelle: Creation is scarier than Conjuring 2, and it returns to more of the tone and feel of the first Conjuring film, which is appreciated. On paper, Annabelle: Creation sounds like a terrible idea, but somehow, thanks to a great cast and director David F. Sandberg, it’s a really great horror film, and one of the year's best. Hopefully they can continue this quality into the next spin off -- The Nun -- which is due out next year.
Directors: David F. Sandberg
Writers: Gary Dauberman
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Samara Lee, Miranda Otto, Brad Greenquist, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, Stephanie Sigman, Mark Bramhall, Grace Fulton, Philippa Coulthard.