The latest entry into the Conjuring cinematic universe (yes, this is now apparently a thing), Annabelle: Creation, dabbles with the origin story of the creepy doll that first surfaced as a prop in The Conjuring (2013). Think of it as a Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them spinoff to the Ed and Lorraine Warren story, but with less Nifflers. But does this film add anything significant to the franchise, or does it simply fall into line with other passable horror films we'll forget about in a few years?
Annabelle: Creation tells the sad and horrific tale of Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and Esther (Miranda Otto) Mullins, after tragically losing their young daughter Bee (Samara Lee) to an unfortunate circumstance. In their devastation, they call upon supernatural forces in an attempt to bring their daughter back. What they end up inviting into their home isn't quite what the Mullins had in mind, ultimately resulting in a very possessed doll, a locked closet, and a twelve year wait for a busload of orphans to come unleash Hell.
What I liked...
- Director Daniel F. Sandberg creates a tense atmosphere, using shadows and dark corners effectively to maximize the uneasiness. The character on screen adjacent to a darkened area is the oldest trick in the book, but one that still leaves you bracing for whatever is planning to jump out from the shadows. I'm not a proponent of jump scares as a rule (I think they're lazy and cheap), but I understand the purpose. As long as the filmmakers use them sparingly as an enhancement to other things, I can forgive them.
- Annabelle, the doll, is just all sorts of wrong. Let's get real....you see a knife wielding Chucky doll running at you, you punt the little bastard. Annabelle? She's the same damn size as half the kids in this flick. You could literally share clothes. Lay her in your bed to fool your parents while you sneak out to that kegger in the woods. In specific scenes that call upon Annabelle to stand up, or start walking, it's an unnerving effect. Add to that the strung-out, meth head, sunken eyes expression, and the thing of nightmares is created.
- The child actors. Well, a couple of them. Of particular note, LuLu Wilson as Linda, and Talitha Bateman as Janice, the two principal child characters that carry the most weight throughout the film. Wilson proved her chops in the horror genre in 2016's Ouija: Origin of Evil. She has the capacity to emote fear with just a glance, so we feel every nervous flinch from her character. Bateman is asked to play the truly vulnerable one. Sickened by polio and confined to her leg braces, she toes a fine line between sadness and optimism, and it's all the more impactful when she becomes the primary target of the paranormal shenanigans.
What I didn't like...
- I really want to see horror filmmakers think a little more outside the box in regard to how to effectively scare an audience without resorting to tired tropes. As I stated earlier, I realize that jump scares are a necessary evil in this genre, but can we put to bed the tropes that have lingered for far too long? If I never see another stretching hallway, or person grabbed by an unseen entity and pulled violently into the darkened corner, or most egregiously, the contorting, bone breaking possessed body trope, it will be too soon. Sandberg definitely does some cool things, but he also relies on a few too many of standard genre effects.
- The "people really do dumb things in horror movies" thing has become a parody of itself. When you catch yourself rolling your eyes at the questionable things characters do in these films, it takes you out of the experience, even if for a couple of seconds. When someone literally sees malevolent shit go down, and the first instinct isn't to keep running, but rather hide under a bed for a few minutes before returning to the exact spot to see if everything has course corrected into normalcy, it's distracting on a comical level. I felt like there was way to much of this going on here. At some point, fight or flight will take over, and since there wasn't much fight to be had, the lack of flight felt odd.
Annabelle:Creation effectively builds upon the Conjuring mythology. Like many horror franchises, we know when the studios have tapped their creative resources and overstayed their welcome, but this series still feels fresh and primed for more stories to be told. Hopefully, we will see a continued effort to up the ante and explore new and original methods of horror storytelling, resulting in less need to insert predictable tropes. This film is a tick above average for the genre, but, progress is progress.
3 out of 5